Lupus, or systematic lupus erythematosus, is a chronic autoimmune disease where your body attacks its own tissues and organs. According to estimates from the Lupus Foundation of America, approximately 1.5 million people in America and 5 million worldwide are suffering from a form of lupus.
Though lupus can strike both women and men, 90 percent of all diagnosed cases are present in females.
Lupus can be very dangerous if not taken care of and can lead to more health complications, like kidney problems, painful joints, and severe fatigue.
What do you need to know about lupus and how it affects women?
What is Systematic lupus erythematosus?
Commonly, the disease will strike people between the ages of 15-44, and it is most prevalent in those of non-European descent. Survival for people with lupus in America, Europe and Canada is approximately 95% at five years, 90% at ten years and 78% at twenty years.
What is Lupus?
Systematic lupus erythematosus is commonly abbreviated as SLE or referred to as simply lupus, and is a chronic autoimmune system connective tissue disease; affecting any part of the human body. Being an autoimmune disease, the immune system actually attacks the cells and tissues of the body, which results in inflammation and damage to the tissues. The disease most commonly harms the nervous system, heart, joints, kidneys, liver, lungs and blood vessels and can cause many secondary health issues, as a result.
Signs and Symptoms of Lupus
Doctors and medical experts can have a hard time diagnosing lupus because the disease imitates so many different illnesses. Lupus is a classic item in terms of differential diagnosis, because the signs and symptoms will vary widely from person to person and can come and go intermittently. Diagnosing the disease can be frustrating and elusive and some will endure many years before receiving a definitive diagnosis.
The most common and chronic symptoms people with lupus will deal with are fever, fatigue, joint pain, myalgias (bone pain), malaise and a temporary loss of mental or cognitive abilities. Because these symptoms and signs are witnessed in so many other diseases, they do not fall under the criteria for diagnosing lupus. When occurring with other signs listed below, it could be suggestive of lupus:
- Dermatological manifestations: most commonly witnessed sign of lupus is the “butterfly rash” which shows up as thick, red, scaly patches of skin. Alopecia or hair loss, mouth, nasal, vaginal ulcers and lesions are also possible.
- Musculoskeletal manifestations: joint pain or muscle pain which is experienced by 90% of all those diagnosed with lupus. It is thought by some experts there may be an association between lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and that the disease is associated with an increased risk of bone fractures in many young women.
- Cardiac manifestations: inflammation of the heart in various different parts.
- Hematological manifestations: anemia and iron deficiency, low platelet and white blood cells counts can be due to lupus or possibly because of the effects of pharmacological agents.
- Renal involvement: protein and/or blood in the urine, nephritis or kidney inflammation and renal failure can all be due to lupus.
- Pulmonary manifestations: lung and pleura inflammation, pulmonary hypertension, pulmonary emboli, pulmonary hemorrhage and shrinking lung syndrome are all associated with the disease.
- Systemic manifestations: fatigue, pain, anemia, hypothyroidism, depression, poor sleep quality, and many other factors are common with lupus.
- Neuropsychiatric manifestations: there are nineteen different neuropsychiatric syndromes involved with lupus and the most common complaint is headaches. Other problems can include cognitive dysfunction, cerebrovascular disease, seizures, mood disorders, Guillain-Barre syndrome, autonomic disorder, cranial neuropathy, myasthenia gravis, plexopathy, movement disorder and meningitis.
Diagnosing and Treating Lupus
There are no known causes for lupus however certain medical experts feel the disease can be attributed to certain genetic susceptibilities and a number of different environmental triggers. To make a definitive diagnosis of lupus, a physician will need to assess the patient, gather a complete medical history, ask a series of questions and perform a physical evaluation and order several tests. Such tests can include:
- Antinuclear antibody test: serological testing which yields positive results for many connective tissue disorders and autoimmune diseases.
- Complement system levels tests: lower levels are suggestive of consumption by the immune system, and checks for liver enzymes, complete blood count, renal function and electrolyte levels.
- Lupus erythematosus (LE): not commonly ordered because only 50-75% of individuals will actually have lupus cells and it could also yield a positive result in those with scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and drug sensitivities.
The American College of Rheumatology developed diagnostic criteria for diagnosing lupus, but some with the disease will not pass the full criterion. The diagnostic criteria for lupus was first established in 1982, and later revised in 1997 and the purpose is to identify people with lupus for clinical studies. If any of the following symptoms are present four out of eleven times simultaneously or on two separate occasions, a person will have lupus:
- Serositis: pleuritis or pericarditis
- Oral ulcers
- Renal disorder
- Blood or hematological disorder
- Antinuclear antibody test positive result
- Immunological disorders
- Malar or butterfly rash
- Neurological disorder
- Discoid rash
Treating lupus will depend upon the signs and symptoms present; it can be done through using medications and requires careful and considerate discussion with a medical professional. There are three types of drugs used to treat lupus when the signs and symptoms are moderate, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antimalarial drugs and corticosteroids work quite well at controlling the uncomfortable effects of the disease.
For severe cases of lupus, a person may be prescribed a regimen of immunosuppressive drugs and high dose corticosteroids which is only done in cases of life threatening inflammation of the kidneys, blood vessels and central nervous system. There are also lifestyle and home remedies which can alleviate some of the most common signs and symptoms of mild lupus; these are things a person will need to discuss with a physician in order to determine whether or not it would be beneficial.
Lupus in Women
Lupus is a disease which can affect anybody, but a large majority of cases are diagnosed in women. African American women are three times as likely as a Caucasian woman to be diagnosed with lupus and tend to develop the disease at a younger age and have more severe symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated in a study released in May 2002 that deaths attributed to lupus increased over the past two decades, particularly among African American women aged 45-64, it is unclear if the rise in death rates was an actual mortality increase or because of better identification and reporting of the disease.
Read More: Ten Advances In The Fight Against Lupus
Lupus Awareness Month and Awareness Day May 10th, 2010
Lupus Awareness Month and Awareness Day (May 10th) fall within the month of May and it is hoped that through the “Band Together for Lupus” campaign, to raise awareness and educate the public about the disease. With estimates showing that 80% of the public knowing very little or nothing about lupus, it the hopes of the foundation to impact knowledge through workshops, educational materials and other information and make a difference in the lives of those suffering with the disease.
Lupus is a debilitating disease which strikes many women all over the world, through becoming proactive and educated about the disease it is hoped that quality of life can be improved and a person can stay as healthy as possible. While there is no known cure for lupus, managing the symptoms and following medical advice can allow a person to avoid a worsening of disease and be better able to cope until medical science and researchers are able to find a cure.