Lupus an autoimmune disease where the immune system goes rogue by creating antibodies to attack the bodies own tissues which it was designed to protect. Tissues such as the heart, kidneys, brain, skin, lungs, blood and joints are the usual culprits. Often there are periods of illness, called flares, and periods of remission during which there are few symptoms.
Although Lupus affects both men and women, 90% of those diagnosed with the disease are women. People of African, Asian, and Native American descent are more likely to develop lupus than are Caucasians. Women of childbearing age (14 to 45 years old) are most often affected.
What causes Lupus?
The cause of lupus remains unknown. However, there appears to be something that triggers the immune system to attack various areas of the body. That’s why suppressing the immune system is one of the main forms of treatment. Finding the cause is the object of major research efforts.
There is solid evidence that genetics, epigenetics (changes in chromosomes that affect gene activity), environmental factors, viruses, and infections play a role.
What are the types of lupus?
The most common type of lupus is called Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), which affects many parts of the body. Some people may present inflammation or other problems with oily skin and joints, while other SLE sufferers will see joints, lungs, kidneys, blood, and/or the heart affected. This type of lupus is also often characterized by periods of flare (when the disease is active) and periods of remission (when the disease is dormant).
Cutaneous lupus, which causes a rash or lesion on the skin, usually when exposed to sunlight. It is characterized by a rash that appears on the face, neck, and scalp, and it does not affect internal organs. Less than 10% of patients with discoid lupus progress into the systemic form of the disease, but there is no way to predict or prevent the path of the disease.
Drug-induced lupus, similar to SLE, which is caused by an overreaction to certain medications. Symptoms usually disappear once the medicine is stopped.The drugs most commonly associated with this form of lupus are a hypertension medication called hydralazine and a heart arrhythmia medication called procainamide, but there are some 400 other drugs that can also cause the condition. Drug-induced lupus is known to subside after the patient stops taking the triggering medication.
Neonatal lupus, which occurs when an infant acquires auto-antibodies from its mother with SLE. The unborn and newborn child can have skin rashes and other complications with the heart and blood. Usually, a rash appears but eventually fades within the first six months of the child’s life.
What are the lupus symptoms?
Diagnosing lupus is difficult because signs and symptoms vary considerably from person to person. Signs and symptoms of lupus may vary over time and overlap with those of many other disorders.
- Achy Joints
- Unexplained fever
- Swollen joints (arthritis)
- Prolonged or extreme fatigue
- Skin rash
- Ankle swelling and fluid accumulation
- Pain in the chest when breathing deeply (pleurisy)
- A butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks and nose
- Hair loss
- Sensitivity to the sun and/or other light
- Mouth or nose sores
- Pale or purple fingers or toes from cold or stress (Raynaud’s phenomenon)
What Problems Can People With Lupus Have?
Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many areas of the body, including :
Kidneys. Lupus can cause serious kidney damage, and kidney failure is one of the leading causes of death among people with lupus. Kidney problems are more common when someone also has other lupus symptoms, such as fatigue, arthritis, rash, fever, and weight loss. Less often, kidney disease may occur when there are no other symptoms of lupus.
Brain and central nervous system. If your brain is affected by lupus, you may experience headaches, dizziness, behavior changes, vision problems, and even strokes or seizures. Many people with lupus experience memory problems and may have difficulty expressing their thoughts
Blood and blood vessels. Lupus may lead to blood problems, including anemia and increased risk of bleeding or blood clotting. It can also cause inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis).
Lungs. Having lupus increases your chances of developing an inflammation of the chest cavity lining (pleurisy), which can make breathing painful. Bleeding into lungs and pneumonia also are possible.
Heart. Lupus can cause inflammation of your heart muscle, your arteries or heart membrane (pericarditis). The risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks increases greatly as well.
How is Lupus diagnosed?
No one test can diagnose lupus. The combination of blood and urine tests, signs and symptoms, and physical examination findings leads to the diagnosis.
How is Lupus treated?
Treatment for lupus depends on your signs and symptoms. Determining whether your signs and symptoms should be treated and what medications to use requires a careful discussion of the benefits and risks with your doctor.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as naproxen sodium (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), may be used to treat pain, swelling, and fever associated with lupus.
Antimalarial drugs. Medications commonly used to treat malaria, such as hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), affect the immune system and can help decrease the risk of lupus flares. Regular eye exams are recommended when taking these medications.
Corticosteroids. Prednisone and other types of corticosteroids can counter the inflammation of lupus. High doses of steroids such as methylprednisolone (A-Methapred, Medrol) are often used to control a serious disease that involves the kidneys and brain.
Immunosuppressants. Drugs that suppress the immune system may be helpful in serious cases of lupus. Examples include azathioprine (Imuran, Azasan), mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept) and methotrexate (Trexall).
Biologics. A different type of medication, belimumab (Benlysta) administered intravenously, also reduces lupus symptoms in some people
Rituximab (Rituxan) can be beneficial in cases of resistant lupus.
Does Lupus have a cure?
There is no cure for lupus, but there are steps you can take to improve your sense of well-being and your quality of life, including low-impact exercises, rest, eating well, avoiding alcohol, playing safe in the sun, not smoking, understanding your disease and asking for help.
Confused on how to help a loved one living with Lupus?
learn about the disease so you understand the disease and your loved one better. Give your loved one enough space to get a handle on the disease. If possible go to doctors appointments together. Create an open line of communication so you can be a support system.