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Lupus is a chronic disorder of the immune system, which may cause chronic fatigue, muscle and joint pains, and other symptoms that can lead to depression. Coping with the physical and mental manifestations of the disease can be a challenge.

Systemic lupus erythematosus or simply, lupus, is an autoimmune disease that is characterized by the production of unusual antibodies, or proteins in the blood, which tend to destroy healthy tissues. Just like other autoimmune disorders, it is a chronic condition that leads to lingering symptoms, for which there is no permanent cure. Treatment usually consists of reducing inflammation and prevention of complications. However, lupus can affect one's daily life and can lead to depression, so patients have to find effective ways to cope with the condition.

What is Lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder characterized by chronic inflammation that may involve the skin and the internal organs. An autoimmune condition is a disorder that involves the immune system, mistaking healthy tissues of the body as targets for defense, just like it normally fights viruses or bacteria. 

The immune system attacks the tissues and organs, forms special proteins called autoantibodies, and results in inflammation and destruction.

Lupus can cause a disease of the skin, which manifests as a rash (lupus dermatitis), but it may also involve various organs, including the lungs, heart, joints, kidneys, and the nervous system (systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE).

Lupus is eight times more common among women than men, and usually occurs between the second to the fourth decades of life. The cause is unknown, but the interplay of genetic and environmental factors play a significant role in triggering the disease.

The signs and symptoms of lupus vary in every individual, and the onset and severity may also range from gradual and mild to sudden and severe. Symptoms may come and go, and flare-ups or worsening of episodes are common. People with lupus may experience these common symptoms:

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Joint stiffness, swelling and pain

  • Butterfly-shaped facial rash

  • Skin lesions that worsen with exposure to the sun

  • Fingers and toes turning blue when stressed or exposed to cold

  • Shortness of breath

  • Dry eyes

  • Chest pain

  • Confusion

  • Memory loss

  • Headaches

Coping with Lupus

Patients who are diagnosed with lupus are often told that there is no cure for their disease. However, there are treatments that help reduce inflammation and flare-up of symptoms. These include corticosteroids and immunosuppressant drugs such as azathioprine (Imuran), cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan), leflunomide (Arava), mycophenolate (Cellcept), and methotrexate (Trexall). Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as naproxen (Aleve) or ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) may be used to relieve swelling, pain, and fever associated with lupus.

Many patients, however, feel sad or depressed because their symptoms often linger and they are not able to enjoy life as much as they could. They may also be saddened about knowing that they have a chronic condition, which can worsen and lead to complications, such as heart and kidney failure.

To cope with chronic illness such as lupus, doctors advise patients to lead a healthy lifestyle that can help prevent flare-ups and reduce complications.

These include eating a healthy, balanced diet, doing regular light exercise, and avoiding bad habits such as smoking or drinking too much alcohol. Overexposure to the sun can trigger flares, so one must wear protective covering such as hats and long-sleeved shirts, as well as sunscreen lotion when going outdoors. It is also advisable for patients to get plenty of sleep and rest to be able to cope with fatigue and other symptoms such as joint pains and headaches.

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