What is Lupus: Symptoms, Causes, Tests, and Treatment

What is Lupus: Symptoms, Causes, Tests, and Treatment

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with lupus, it’s important to understand the disease and what you can do to manage it. In this blog post, we will explore everything you need to know about lupus, from symptoms to treatment options. We will also provide resources for further reading and support.

What is Lupus?

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can affect any part of the body. The immune system attacks healthy tissue, causing inflammation and damage. It can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms mimic those of other conditions. There is no cure, but treatments can help manage the symptoms.

Different types of Lupus

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can affect any part of the body. There are four different types of lupus.

  1. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): This is the most common type, it is when the immune system attacks organs and tissues throughout the body. It affects the skin and mucous membranes, such as the lining of the mouth and nose. It can cause arthritis; problems with kidney, heart, lungs, photosensitivity (an abnormal sensitivity to sunlight) or brain; and fatigue syndrome.
  2. Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE): This type only affects the skin, causing a distinctive rash on the face or scalp.
  3. Subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus (SCLE): This type affects the skin and usually starts as small, red patches that eventually turn into scaly plaques.
  4. Drug-induced lupus: As the name suggests, this is caused by certain medications. It typically goes away once you stop taking the medication.

Symptoms

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation and tissue damage throughout the body. The most common symptoms of lupus are fatigue, joint pain, fever, skin rashes, and kidney problems.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Muscle pain.
  • Sensitivity to sunlight.
  • Hair loss.
  • Mouth sores.
  • Dry eyes.
  • Chest pain.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Swollen glands.
  • Headaches.
  • Confusion.
  • Depression.
  • Issues with heart and lungs.
  • Seizures.
  • Blood clots.
  • Anemia.
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Causes

There is no one definitive answer to the question of what causes it. However, there are certain risk factors that have been identified that may predispose someone to developing the disease. These include:

Genetic disposition: If you have a family member with lupus, your chances of developing the disease yourself are increased.

Hormonal changes: It is more common in women than men, and it has been suggested that hormonal changes (such as those that occur during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause) may play a role in its development.

Exposure to sunlight: They often have photosensitivity, meaning they are more sensitive to sunlight than others. This can trigger or worsen the symptoms.

Certain medications: There are a number of drugs that have been linked to an increased risk of developing lupus, including some antibiotics, anti-seizure medications, and blood pressure drugs.

Treatment

There is currently no cure for lupus, however there are treatments available that can help manage the symptoms and make the condition more bearable. Common treatments include:

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 it. Stronger NSAIDs are available by prescription. Side effects of NSAIDs may include stomach bleeding, kidney problems and an increased risk of heart problems.

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. Side effects can include stomach upset and, very rarely, damage to the retina of the eye. Regular eye exams are recommended when taking these medications.

Corticosteroids. Prednisone and other types of corticosteroids can counter the inflammation of it. High doses of steroids such as methylprednisolone (Medrol) are often used to control serious disease that involves the kidneys and brain. Side effects include weight gain, easy bruising, thinning bones, high blood pressure, diabetes and increased risk of infection. The risk of side effects increases with higher doses and longer term therapy.

Immunosuppressants. Drugs that suppress the immune system may be helpful in serious cases. Examples include azathioprine (Imuran, Azasan), mycophenolate (Cellcept), methotrexate (Trexall, Xatmep, others), cyclosporine (Sandimmune, Neoral, Gengraf) and leflunomide (Arava). Potential side effects may include an increased risk of infection, liver damage, decreased fertility and an increased risk of cancer.

Biologics. A different type of medication, belimumab (Benlysta) administered intravenously, also reduces the symptoms in some people. Side effects include nausea, diarrhea and infections. Rarely, worsening of depression can occur.

Complications

Lupus can cause a wide variety of complications, some of which can be life-threatening. Some of the more common complications include:

Joint pain and swelling: It can cause joint pain and swelling, which can lead to joint damage and deformity.

Skin problems: It can cause a wide variety of skin problems, ranging from mild rashes to severe lesions. Skin problems are one of the most common symptoms.

Kidney problems: It can cause kidney inflammation, which can lead to kidney failure. Kidney failure is a potentially life-threatening complication of lupus.

Neurological problems: It can cause a variety of neurological problems, ranging from mild headaches to seizures and strokes. Severe neurological problems are relatively rare, but they can be very serious or even fatal if they occur.

Blood disorders: It can cause a variety of blood disorders, including anemia and thrombocytopenia (low platelet count). These disorders can be serious and even life-threatening if left untreated.

How to test Lupus?

If you think you may have it, it’s important to see your doctor and get a proper diagnosis. There is no one test, but several different types of tests may be used to help confirm a diagnosis.

Your doctor will likely start with a complete medical history and physical exam. He or she may also order lab tests, including:

Complete blood count. This test measures the number of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets as well as the amount of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells. Results may indicate you have anemia. A low white blood cell or platelet count may occur in lupus as well.

Erythrocyte sedimentation rate. This blood test determines the rate at which red blood cells settle to the bottom of a tube in an hour. A faster than normal rate may indicate a systemic disease. The sedimentation rate isn’t specific for any one disease. It may be elevated if you have lupus, an infection, another inflammatory condition or cancer.

Kidney and liver assessment. Blood tests can assess how well your kidneys and liver are functioning. It can affect these organs.

Urinalysis. An examination of a sample of your urine may show an increased protein level or red blood cells in the urine, which may occur if lupus has affected your kidneys.

Antinuclear antibody (ANA) test. A positive test for the presence of these antibodies — produced by your immune system — indicates a stimulated immune system. While most people with lupus have a positive ANA test, most people with a positive ANA do not have lupus. If you test positive for ANA , your doctor may advise more-specific antibody testing.

In some cases, your doctor may refer you to a rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

Lupus alternative treatments

What works for one person may not work for another. However, there are a number of alternative treatments that can help people manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Some common alternative treatments include:

Dietary changes: Some people find that certain foods trigger their lupus symptoms, so they may benefit from avoiding these foods or following a specific diet.

Herbal supplements: Herbs like turmeric and ginger have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce lupus symptoms.

Acupuncture: This traditional Chinese medicine technique involves inserting thin needles into the skin at specific points. Some people find it helpful in relieving pain and fatigue associated with lupus.

Yoga: Yoga can help improve flexibility, muscle strength, and breathing. It may also help reduce stress and anxiety levels.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes can help people with Lupus manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Some simple lifestyle changes that may help include:

Getting regular exercise: Exercise can help reduce fatigue, improve sleep, and boost mood.

Eating a healthy diet: A healthy diet can help reduce inflammation and promote overall health.

Reducing stress: Stress can trigger or worsen the symptoms, so it’s important to find ways to manage it.

Infection control: Avoiding infections as much as possible helps your immune system stay stronger. Basic infection control methods include:

Wash your hands often, especially when you come in from outside or have been shopping
Avoid people who are sick, especially colds and the flu
Get an annual flu shot and pneumonia vaccine
Stay current on all other vaccines

Living With Someone Who Has Lupus

If you are living with someone who has lupus, it is important to be supportive and understanding. Symptoms can come and go, and can vary in intensity. Treatment plans are often complex and may involve medication, lifestyle changes, and close monitoring by a healthcare team. It is important to be patient and understanding as your loved one navigates their journey.

Famous people with Lupus

Lupus doesn’t discriminate when it comes to age, ethnicity, income—even celebrity status. There have been many people who have made names for themselves in the world of entertainment, sports, and politics who happen to have it. Famous people with lupus include:

Selena Gomez: The singer was diagnosed with lupus in 2015 and has since undergone chemotherapy to treat the disease.
Lady Gaga: The pop star has said that she suffers from “a form of fibromyalgia” which may be related to lupus.
Toni Braxton: The R&B singer was diagnosed with lupus in 2008 and has since become an advocate for awareness of the disease.
Michael Jordan: The basketball legend revealed in a 2009 interview that he has been living with lupus for many years.
Seal: The musician Seal battled discoid lupus as a childhood. His trademark facial scarring is a result of the disease.

Lupus support groups

Lupus support groups can provide an important source of information, emotional support, and practical tips for coping with lupus. It can be a debilitating disease that impacts around 1.5 million people a year in the United States. And like any disease that can make daily life more difficult, it’s helpful for people living with it to have a support group made up of others experiencing similar issues.

In-person support groups can offer a chance to meet other people living with lupus and to share information and experiences. Many groups also offer educational programs on topics such as managing flares, dealing with fatigue, and communicating with health care providers.

  1. Lupus Research Alliance’s forum you’ll find a clean, uncluttered design. You can browse through current threads or sort by category. You do need to become a member, but it’s free.
  2. The Mighty is a social media site with support forums focusing on more than 600 health conditions. In addition to lupus, you can find groups for chronic pain and numerous pain-related conditions. This is helpful if you’re living with multiple diagnoses because you can find support for everything in one place.
  3. LupusConnect – There are adolescent-focused groups, including ones for young adults, teens, and parents of children and teens with lupus. There are also communities for men, pregnant women, and caregivers. Another offering is for native Spanish speakers.
  4. Kaleidoscope Fighting aims to advocate for patient support and works with the government and foundations “to help fund research for a cure.”
  5. Lupus Warriors is a large and active Facebook group with numerous administrators and moderators who work to keep things focused and positive.

Conclusion

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can be difficult to diagnose and treat. If you suspect that you or someone you know has lupus, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing lupus, but with the right medical care and support, it is possible to manage the symptoms and live a full life. For more health insights, visit Centric Healthcare.

References:

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=85&ContentID=P00058

https://www.cdc.gov/

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