What is Lupus
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system, for unknown reasons, becomes hyperactive and attacks normal tissue. These attacks result in inflammation and cause symptoms. Signs of inflammation are swelling, redness, pain and warmth and if they last too long, then they damage the tissues and impair normal functioning. This is why the treatment of lupus is aimed at reducing the inflammation.
In lupus, the immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues by mistake. By doing this, it can damage the joints, skin, blood vessels and other organs.
There are four forms of lupus:
Systemic lupus erythematosus that affects many parts of the body; Cutaneous lupus erythematosus that affects the skin;
Drug-induced lupus may develop after taking certain prescription medications and
Neonatal lupus, which is rare condition and not the same thing as SLE.
Anyone can get lupus, but women are most at risk. Lupus has many symptoms. The most common ones are joint pain or swelling, muscle pain, fever with no known cause and red rashes, often on the face, increase in fatigue and sores or ulcers in the mouth or nose.
Symptoms that may require a lupus patient to contact their doctor immediately are blood in your stool or vomiting, severe abdominal pain, excess bruising or bleeding anywhere on your body, confusion or mood changes, seizures, chest pain, headache with fever and neck stiffness, etc
Flares and remissions and their lengths cannot be predicted. Lupus can take a highly variable course with some people having a course where their lupus flares-up and then goes into remission and others having a more chronic course with symptoms day-in and day-out.
There is no one test to diagnose lupus, and it may take months or years to make the diagnosis. There is no cure for lupus, but medicines and lifestyle changes can help control it. The treatment is usually aimed at reducing inflammation caused by lupus. A number of different medications are being used. These medications may be used alone or in combination.
Four families of medications are used in the treatment of lupus.
They are Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs, Corticosteroids, Anti-malarials and Immunosuppressants.
If one of these medications don’t work well, physicians will switch to another type to see if it’s more beneficial.
Lupus is not contagious, not even through sexual contact, but it can be triggered at puberty, after childbirth, by sunlight, during the menopause, after viral infection and after a prolonged course of medication. The course of the disease is unpredictable, with flares alternating with remission.
Most of the people have lupus alone. However, there are those who have overlap symptoms characteristic of one or more connective tissue diseases. Well-recognized overlaps include: lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and myositis, lupus and systemic sclerosis (scleroderma), lupus and Sjogren's syndrome.
Lupus does vary in intensity and degree and there is no cure for the disease but 80-90% of the people with lupus can expect to live normal and substantial lives.
Lupus can lead to death by overwhelming infection and kidney failure. These are the two most common causes of death in people with lupus.
Lupus is nothing like cancer and people with lupus are no more likely to develop cancer than are people in the general population.
Lupus and pregnancy
Female patients have been warned before against pregnancy. Today, this is not the case.
Regarding flares in pregnancy, recent researches showed that they are uncommon but if they do appear, they are easily treated. Most women may actually experience an improvement in the symptoms. The symptoms that usually appear are arthritis, rashes, and fatigue. However, there are controversies regarding the matter.
Statistics show that over 50% of all lupus pregnancies are completely normal, 25% deliver normal babies prematurely and 20% end up with miscarriages or death of the baby. Losses in the first trimester may have no known cause or may be associated with signs of active lupus. Losses that occur later usually occur due to the antiphospholipid antibody syndrome. Preterm birth in lupus is usually due to pre-eclampsia and premature rupture of membranes. Risk factors for preterm birth include active lupus, high dose Prednisone, and renal disease. The baby may also be at risk for intrauterine growth retardation.
Lupus pregnancies are considered high-risk pregnancies for both babies and mothers and this means that lupus patients should work closely with their doctors and high-risk obstetricians during pregnancy and plan their deliveries at hospitals. Women need to distinguish lupus symptoms with normal pregnancy symptoms that may overlap. They should be closely monitored.
It is important to know that lupus patients should only read literature that is not more than five years old because facts and figures are constantly changing due to frequent researches.
There is no special lupus diet. It is recommended that lupus patients follow the American Heart Association or the American Cancer Society diets, which are well balanced, low in fat, sodium and refined sugars but high in fiber. If certain foods seem to cause flare ups, you should certainly avoid them.
Alfalfa sprouts are only known to stimulate the immune system in lupus patients and increase inflammation due to the presence of L-canavanine, an amino acid.
Lupus patients are encouraged to exercise especially in times of remission. The recommended activities are swimming, bicycling, walking and other aerobic activities.
During flares, lupus patients need a lot of rest including plenty of sleep and napping during the day and quite often modify their schedules.
About half of the lupus patients may experience feelings of confusion, fatigue, memory impairment, and difficulty expressing their thoughts. These symptoms are often present in those patients with SLE and are called "cognitive dysfunction".
Medications should be taken as prescribed and any side effects reported.
Some patients may be able to work full time, others part time and there are those who would have to apply for disability due to their inability to work.
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