July 9, 2009 -- As speculation about Michael Jackson's health problems swirls after his June 25 death, it appears that many of his signature habits seem to confirm that he struggled with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disorder.
On Wednesday, Dr. Arnie Klein, Jackson's physician, told "Good Morning America" that he had diagnosed Jackson, 50, with lupus, a disease in which the body comes under attack from its own immune system. The result is inflammation, pain and damage to certain tissues of the body.
Hints of how Jackson dealt with such a condition can be found in his personal style choices, from the surgical mask he occasionally donned to his signature white glove.
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, at least at least 1.5 million Americans have lupus, and about 5 million people throughout the world have some form of the disease.
Dr. Robert Lahita, a professor of medicine at Mount Sinai Medical School who has has written numerous books on lupus and other autoimmune conditions, told "Good Morning America" that what we know about Jackson's other medical conditions may also point to lupus.
"He had a form of skin lupus, called discoid lupus, which affects about 40 percent of the patients with lupus," Lahita said, adding that this condition can lead to depigmentation of the skin, among other things.
"Michael Jackson acknowledged having vitiligo, having splotches of the skin," Lahita said.
This condition may explain why Jackson was often seen carrying an umbrella, as these patients are normally advised to avoid sun exposure.
But for many of Jackson's fans, the implication that the singer's famous single white glove may have been camouflage for his condition may be most intriguing. It was a possibility that Lahita called "very interesting."
Jackson's Health Hinted at Lupus
"[Vitiligo] affects the neck, the face, the upper part of the wrists and the groin," he said. "And vitiligo is uncommon by itself. But with autoimmune disease, it's common."
If Jackson had lupus, it may also point to an underlying reason for what some close to the singer have said was an addiction to prescription pain medications.
"Quite a few of my patients have fibromyalgia, about 50 percent," Lahita said. "That's a terrible, chronic pain condition. He may have suffered from that."
What Else Might Lupus Explain About Jackson's Health?
But could lupus also explain some of the other health conditions Jackson is believed to have experienced?
According to Cherilyn Lee, a nurse who worked for Michael Jackson, the singer had also asked for the powerful anesthetic Diprivan in the days before his death in order to help him sleep. Lahita said that insomnia is also commonly associated with the type of lupus Jackson was believed to have had.
There are also suspicions, dating from an injury that Jackson sustained in 1984 in which his head was burned during the filming of a commercial, that Jackson wore a wig to cover hair loss.
"We call the hair loss alopecia, and it's very common," Lahita said. "And you may recall he had that commercial accident in New York City. That's probably the time when the discoid lupus was discovered on his scalp."
And since lupus can inflame the heart as well, Lahita said, it may be possible that the pop icon's ultimate demise could be linked to the condition once all of the results from his medical tests are known.
"One of the things about this remarkable disease is accelerated hardening of the arteries," Lahita said. "The heart is involved. The blood vessels are involved in most of my patients. And premature heart disease is very common."