Lupus is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system attacks tissues and organs. The inflammation caused by lupus can affect skin, blood cells, joints, lungs, kidneys, brain, and heart.
Since the symptoms of lupus often mimic those of other diseases, it makes diagnosis difficult to establish. However, most characteristic sign of lupus in most cases is a facial rash that bear a resemblance to the wings of a butterfly unfolding across both cheeks.
Some people are born with a tendency toward developing lupus, which may be triggered by infections, certain drugs or even sunlight. While there’s no cure for lupus, treatments can help control symptoms.
Symptoms of Lupus
Signs and symptoms of lupus may be mild or sever, temporary or permanent, come on suddenly or develop slowly. Signs and symptoms of lupus depends on which body systems are affected by the disease. The most common signs and symptoms include:
- Butterfly-shaped rash on the face that covers the cheeks and bridge of the nose or rashes elsewhere on the body
- Chest pain
- Memory loss
- Joint pain and swelling
- Skin lesions that deteriorate with sun exposure
- Fingers and toes that turn white or blue when exposed to cold or during stressful periods
- Shortness of breath
- Dry eyes
When to see a doctor
Consult your doctor immediately if you develop mysterious rash, persistent ache, ongoing fever, or fatigue.
Causes of Lupus
The main cause of lupus in most cases is unknown. Lupus occurs when your immune system attacks healthy tissue in your body. Lupus may be caused by a combination of genetics and environment. People with an inherited inclination for lupus may develop the disease when they come into contact with something in the environment that can trigger the condition. Some potential factors that may trigger lupus include:
- Exposure to Sunlight.Some people susceptible to lupus may experience skin lesions or an internal response.
- An infection can trigger lupus or cause a relapse in some people.
- Lupus can be triggered by certain types of blood pressure medications, anti-seizure medications and antibiotics.
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Some factors that may increase your risk of lupus include:
- Lupus is more common in African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans.
- Lupus is more common in women.
- Although lupus affects people of all ages, it is mostly diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 45.
Complications from lupus can affect many areas of your body, including:
- Lupus can cause severe cases kidney damage and kidney failure.
- Lupus can cause inflammation of your heart muscle, your arteries or heart membrane (pericarditis).
- Lupus increases your risks of developing an inflammation of the chest cavity lining (pleurisy), which can cause breathing problems.
- Brain and central nervous system. You may experience dizziness and memory loss if your brain is affected by lupus.
- Blood and blood vessels. Lupus may lead to blood problems like anemia and increased risk of bleeding or blood clotting.
- Since lupus weakens the immune system, people with this condition are more vulnerable to infection.
- Having lupus appears to increase your risk of cancer; however the risk is small.
- Pregnancy complications. Women with lupus have an increased risk of miscarriage, preeclampsia (high blood pressure during birth) and preterm birth.
Signs and symptoms of lupus vary greatly from person to person, making diagnosis difficult. Signs and symptoms of lupus may vary over time and overlap with those of many other conditions. There’s no one test that can properly diagnose lupus. The combination of blood and urine tests, signs and symptoms, and physical examination findings leads to the diagnosis.
Blood and urine tests may include:
- Complete blood count (CBC). This test measures the number of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets and the amount of hemoglobin (protein in red blood cells). Results may indicate you have anemia, which is common in lupus patients.
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate. This helps to establish the rate at which red blood cells settle to the bottom of a tube in an hour. A faster than normal rate may indicate lupus.
- Kidney and liver assessment. Blood tests can assess how well your kidneys and liver are functioning since these organs can be affected by lupus.
- 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 points to 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.
- Chest X-ray.An image of your chest may reveal abnormal shadows that suggest fluid or inflammation in your lungs.
- This uses sound waves to produce real-time images of your beating heart. It can check for problems with your valves and other portions of your heart.
In some cases it may be necessary to test a small sample of kidney tissue to determine what the best treatment might be. The sample can be obtained with a needle or through a small incision.
Treatment for lupus depends on your signs and symptoms. The medications most commonly used to treat lupus include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).Over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as naproxen sodium (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), may be needed to treat swelling, pain, and fever associated with lupus. Stronger NSAIDs are available by prescription. Side effects of NSAIDs 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.
- Prednisone and other types of corticosteroids can counter the inflammation of lupus.
- Drugs like azathioprine (Imuran, Azasan), mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept) and methotrexate (Trexall), that suppress the immune system may be helpful in serious cases of lupus. Side effects may include an increased risk of infection, liver damage, decreased fertility and an increased risk of cancer.
- Rituximab (Rituxan). This drug can be useful in cases of resistant lupus. Side effects include allergic reaction to the intravenous infusion and infections.
Sources: healthline.com, mayoclinic.org, hearingsol.com
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