Systemic lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disease where the immune system starts attacking healthy cells within the body. Commonly referred to as lupus, it is a condition that affects the joints, nervous system, blood vessels, lungs, kidneys, skin, and brain. From fatigue to fever, pain to rashes, lupus can turn severe within a very small time frame.
Even though lupus has no cure, it can be managed effectively, as long as it is diagnosed by your medical doctor before getting out of hand. Here is all the information you need to discover what it is, what are its signs and symptoms, how it’s diagnosed.
Facts about Lupus
Before diving into the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of lupus there are some facts you need to become clear on. It is one of those diseases not very well known by the masses. This means that most people are not going to be able to understand it unless you explain it to them. In order to have support from your loved ones, you can give them a clear idea of what lupus involves. These few facts will help them;
- The minute you mention immune system, people are going to jump to diseases like HIV and AIDS. Make it clear that lupus is nothing like AIDS or HIV. In these diseases, the immune system is attacked, where as lupus is a condition that has an overactive immune system.
- Lupus is not contagious and it cannot be transferred to anyone on contact or by breathing in the same environment.
- It is a chronic condition which means that it stays for life and cannot go away with treatment. However, it can be managed effectively like diabetes, heart illness, or asthma.
- Lupus symptoms are expressed uniquely for each individual. Just because one person has a rashs, does not mean every patient will have them. Some have mild conditions, while others have a severe form of it.
Lupus – The Basics
As mentioned above, Lupus is an autoimmune disease whereby the immune system becomes overactive and starts thinking that healthy cells in the body are its enemies. So it attacks and destroys them. It is mostly a disease that afflicts women, as 9 out 10 patients are women. Lupus is also more common among people of African, Native American or Asian descent, compared to Caucasians.
The earliest onset can be young, but most people who get lupus are between the ages of 15 to 44. What you may be thinking right now is this; What causes lupus in the first place? As of yet, experts aren’t sure why the immune system turns rogue and starts attacking healthy cells in the body.
Some studies point out it could be because of genetics, while other researchers suggest that certain allergies or viruses can also lead to the development of lupus. Hormonal and environmental causes can also give way to the occurrence of lupus. For example, some women develop lupus after they have had pregnancy due to the rise and fall of estrogen hormones.
When lupus sets in, tissues become inflamed and damaged. It is a disease of flareups and remissions, meaning the symptoms keep going up and down. There are two kinds of lupus, systemic lupus and discoid lupus. DLE or discoid lupus shows effects on skin that is exposed to sunlight and in most cases organs are left undamaged. Scars take place on the skin that are shaped like circular coins.
SLE, or systemic lupus, is the more serious kind where skin as well as vital organs like the kidneys and brain can become infected. A scaly butterfly shaped rash can occur on the bridge of the nose and turns into a scar in SLE if not treated in time. This kind of lupus can cause conditions like kidney disease, depression, strokes, seizures and damage to tissues of the lungs, heart, and kidneys.
When SLE strikes, it can cause the immune system to attack blood vessels as well. This leads to thew rise of sores on skin, particularly on the fingers. Raynaud’s syndrome is a condition that can take place with SLE. It causes small blood vessels in the hands and fingers to constrict. This restricts blood supply and can turn the hands blue. Patients are suggested to keep their hands and feet warm during winter seasons.
So how can you know whether or not you are suffering from Lupus?
Signs and Symptoms
Different people see different symptoms of lupus. Some common signs are:
- Hair loss that occurs in patches
- Butterfly shaped rash on cheeks or bridge of nose
- Mouth sores or sores in nose
- Weight loss
- Pain in stomach
- Swollen and painful joints
- Muscular pain
- Rashes that occur due to sunlight exposure
- Cold hands that turn blue
- Depression and confusion
Severe symptoms can include:
- Inflammation of lung and heart tissues
- Kidney problems
- Abnormal blood cell count
- Swelling in ankles and legs
If you have any of the above symptoms, please consult with your doctor.. The sooner your treatment starts, the higher chance of effective management of your lupus condition.
Diagnosis and Treatment
With advancement in technology and medical science, chances of leading a quality life with lupus are high. 80-90% of people with lupus lead a normal life. Of course there are cases where the symptoms have become so severe that the disease can become life-threatening. The problem with diagnosis though is that the symptoms are too varied from individual to individual. There is also no one single test that can determine if the person is suffering from lupus. Often times, people are misdiagnosed several times before it is officially diagnosed as lupus.
Once you see a doctor, they will suggest different blood and urine tests like complete blood count, urinalysis, kidney and liver assessment, antinuclear antibody test etc. There might also be x-rays of lungs and heart. Once the condition is confirmed, treatment options are discussed with the patient.
Depending on signs and symptoms, different kinds of treatments are suggested. Most commonly used medications include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, antimalarial drugs, biologics and immunosuppressants.
An important part of reducing inflammation within the body, is knowing what food is good for you to eat and what to avoid. If you don’t take care of things that you can change like diet and lifestyle, the symptoms of lupus will only get worse.