Lupus is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system becomes hyperactive, causing it to attack normal, healthy tissues and organs. Lupus can affect various parts of the body, from the skin and joints, to the brain and heart. The end result includes swelling, inflammation and damage to various parts of the body. This is a chronic disease, meaning it can last for an extended period of time.
Under normal conditions, the body’s immune system creates proteins known as antibodies, which act as defenders from germs, bacteria, diseases and infections. However, since lupus is an autoimmune disease, the immune system becomes overactive, creating problems. Autoimmune refers to the fact that the immune system can no longer tell the difference between what is harmful and what is healthy. In other words, lupus is a disease where the immune system has become so active, it attacks everything in sight, good and bad. This is very different from the Human Immune Deficiency Virus, or HIV, where the immune system is actually underactive. Because symptoms are not always present or apparent, it’s difficult to understand the pain and distress a person with lupus may be suffering.
Types Of Lupus
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is considered the most common form of lupus. In general, when people are discussing lupus, they are most likely referring to this particular type of the disease. SLE has a tendency to affect the joints, but can also affect major organs of the body. The damage caused by SLE can range from mild to severe, mild being a slight inflammation in the joints, and severe being an inflammation in major organs that can lead to other health problems like stroke or kidney failure.
- Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus refers to lupus that is limited to the skin. Cutaneous lupus can cause rashes and lesions all over the skin. The most common rash caused by cutaneous lupus is a non-itchy, red and scaly rash that is slightly raised. Another common rash is referred to as a “butterfly rash” due to its resemblance of a butterfly spreading its wings. This rash will appear over the cheeks and extend over the nose.
- Drug-induced Lupus Erythematosus is caused by a reaction to prescription drugs. Symptoms of this type of lupus resemble SLE, although major organs are rarely affected.
- Neonatal Lupus affects infants of women suffering from lupus. This is due to the overactive antibodies of the mother acting on the infant while still in the womb.
In most cases, the direct cause for lupus is unknown. There are certain factors that can increase the risk of lupus such as genetics and the environment a person lives in. SLE is more common in women, and typically affects African-Americans and Asians the most. Other factors that can cause lupus include:
- Exposure to sunlight, leading to cutaneous lupus.
- Medication, which can trigger drug induced lupus.
- An infant child born to a mother with lupus, known as neonatal lupus.
- Swelling and inflammation in the affected area
- Chest pain
- Hair loss
- Mouth sores
- Skin rash
- Feeling sick with no apparent cause
Other symptoms can occur when lupus affects major organs of the body:
- Headaches, seizures, vision problems, numbness and tingling may occur when the brain or nervous system is affected by lupus.
- Nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain may occur when lupus affects the digestive tract.
- Lupus that affects the heart can result in abnormal heart beat.
- Respiratory issues and coughing up blood can be the result of lupus in the lungs.
Test And Diagnosis
A physician will look for 4 out of 11 common symptoms or signs to determine if a patient is suffering from lupus. After a physical exam, the physician can request a series of other laboratory tests to be performed. These tests might include:
- Blood tests: to determine if the patient is suffering from anemia, this is a common occurrence for those suffering from lupus.
- Urine tests: to detect an increase in protein levels or red blood cells, this can indicate a problem in the kidneys caused by lupus.
- Antinuclear antibody test: this test will check for antinuclear antibodies, which are indicative of an overactive immune system.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for lupus. Treatment of lupus focuses on reducing and controlling symptoms and preventing the disease from further damaging organs within the body. These treatments include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Corticosteroid creams to relieve skin rashes
- Medications used for malaria, which have also been effective at controlling lupus symptoms.
- Drugs that help suppress the overactive immune system.
Living with lupus cause for a healthier lifestyle to avoid lupus flares. Wearing protective clothing and sunscreen, getting sufficient rest, eating healthy, being active and refraining from smoking and alcohol are all simple ways of suppressing lupus symptoms and keeping these symptoms from becoming more severe. Support groups for those suffering from lupus can also help with psychological distress caused by the diseases such as depression, stress, anxiety and moodiness.