Drawing as a diagnostic tool in lupus patients

Here’s another interesting article on the use of drawing as a diagnostic tool in Med-U-Gdanskassessing people diagnosed with lupus, aka, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).   A qualitative study was conducted at the Medical University of Gdansk, Poland with 2 main goals.  First, to examine the ways illness is perceived and experienced by patients with lupus and second, to assess the use of drawing as as a diagnostic tool.

But first, let’s look at some facts about lupus…

What is lupus or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)?

According to the Lupus Foundation in Washington, D.C.,  “lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, blood, kidneys”, heart, blood vessels, lungs and brain.

Lupus, like rheumatoid arthritis, is an autoimmunie disorder where the immune system cannot tell the difference butterfly_lupusbetween foreign substances and its own cells and tissues.  The immune system is designed to attack foreign substances in the body, but in lupus, something goes wrong with the immune system and begins to make antibodies that attack healthy cells and tissues causing inflammation, pain and damage to the body.

  • The primary feature of lupus is inflammation and is characterized by pain, heat, redness, swelling and loss of function, either on the inside or on the outside of the body (or both).
  • For most people, lupus is a mild disease ususally affecting a few organs.  But, for others, it may cause serious and even life-threatening problems.
  • Lupus affects more than 1.5 million Americans, and at least five million persons worldwide.
  • There is no known cause, but is believed to be triggered by a number of factors, such as environment and genetics.  Environmental factors triggering the disease are infections, antibiotics (sulfa and penicillin groups), UV light, certain drugs, hormones and extreme stress.
  • Scientists believe there may be a genetic predisposition to the disease, as lupus is known to occur within families. But, there is no known gene or genes which are thought to cause the illness.
  • More than 16,000 Americans develop lupus each year.
  • Lupus is more prevalent in women of African-American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American culturesmulticultural
  • Symptoms may be sporadic. The times when a person is having symptoms are called flares, which can range from mild to severe. New symptoms may appear at any time.
  • Common symptoms include: pain or swelling in joints,  muscle pain, fever sad-sunwith no known cause, red rashes on the face, chest pain when taking deep breaths, hair loss, pale or purple fingers or toes, sensitivity to the sun, swelling in legs or around the eyes, ulcers in the mouth, swollen glands, and feeling fatigued.

(Sources: Lupus Foundation, NAIMS/NIH)

 And now, back to the study on the use of drawing as a perceptual and diagnostic tool in assessing persons with lupus.  To summarize, the key points are below:

  1. Patients’ perceptions of their disease influences emotions, behavior, health care needs and expectations, and these perceptions results in differences in attitude, coping and functioning among patients with similiar clincial symptoms.  Which means patients’ personal views and attitudes of their disease differ despite similar clinical symptoms and diagnosis, and are important in promoting self-care and self-responsibility.
  2. Perceptions of illness can be a better indicator of future physical damage to the body and health condition than clincial signs and symptoms.
  3. Currently, the primary draw_crayonassessment tool in measuring illness perception is verbal communication.  By drawing their disease,  it had patients think about their disease in a different way, and produced “incredibly tangible” insight of the impact of lupus to the patients themselves and healthcare professionals.
  4. The study concludes there are a variety of symptoms and different clincial pictures based on the drawings, rather than ‘general’ symptoms experienced by patients with the same diagnosis.
  5. Drawing as a diagnostic tool can help healthcare professionals avoid forming and categorizing patient symptoms with the same diagnosis.

Asking patients to draw their disease provides a wealth of information  they may not be able to express in words.  The old phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ definitely applies here.  This is helpful in developing more individualized treatment plans that take patients’ perceptions and attitudes of their disease into account.  By actively engaging patients’ to take interest in their own treatment plans, the tenets of self-care and self-responsibility are more readily accepted by patients, thus leading to better patient outcomes.

Drawing provides valuable sensory and cognitive information to health professionals in understanding and treating patients with different disease conditions, not just lupus.

Note: email me if you want the bibliography

Below is a favorite Rumi quote…


Have you figured out what your particular work is?

5 responses to “Drawing as a diagnostic tool in lupus patients

  1. Wonderful post however I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this subject?
    I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a
    little bit further. Bless you!

  2. Having read this I believed it was very informative.
    I appreciate you taking the time and energy to put this short article together.

    I once again find myself spending a significant amount of time both
    reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worth it!

  3. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an extremely long commet but after I clicked submitt my comment didn’t show up.

    Grrrr… well I’m not writing aall that
    over again. Anyhow, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

  4. Pingback: Drawings by patients with lupus… « CREATIVITY IN HEALTHCARE

  5. It would be interesting to see some of the drawings by the lupus patients! It would take me a bit to figure out how to draw my illness!!! Interesting concept really.

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