What is lupus? What causes lupus? What are the symptoms and risk factors of the disease? How is it diagnosed and treated? These are common questions. Here’s another one… Do I have lupus?
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, lupus affects around 1.5 million Americans and approximately five million people worldwide. Could you be one of them? If you are, then it is in your best interest to know. After all, lupus can be incredibly difficult to live with. In some cases, it can even cause debilitating or life-threatening problems.
Here’s everything you need to know about the disease…
What Is Lupus?
Lupus, officially called lupus erythematosus, is a group of autoimmune diseases wherein the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s healthy tissues and causes damaging inflammation.
Complex and potentially serious, lupus can cause numerous disturbing symptoms. It can also cause dangerous complications. Systemic lupus erythematosus usually affects women of childbearing age, although anyone can develop lupus or even be born with it.
What Are the Different Types of Lupus?
There are four main types of lupus, the most common and serious of which is systemic lupus erythematosus. This type affects several organs and tissues or the whole body.
Drug-induced lupus erythematosus is similar to systemic lupus but is caused by the chronic use of certain drugs. Neonatal lupus is systemic lupus that affects infants. Discoid lupus erythematosus affects only the skin, most commonly the scalp, cheeks, and ears.
What Are the Symptoms of Lupus?
Symptoms of lupus depend on which body part or system is affected. The most common symptoms are fatigue, fever, joint pain, stiffness or swelling, butterfly-shaped facial rash, and skin lesions.
Other symptoms include shortness of breath (dyspnea), chest pain, headaches, confusion, dry eyes, memory loss, and discoloration of the fingers or toes when exposed to cold weather or stress. Most people experience mild symptoms that flare up from time to time.
What Are the Complications of Lupus?
Lupus inflammation can affect vital bodily organs. This can lead to serious problems like kidney failure, anemia, increased bleeding, blood clotting, vasculitis, pleurisy, pneumonia, and pericarditis.
There can also be bone tissue death (avascular necrosis), miscarriage or high blood pressure during pregnancy (preeclampsia), and repeat infections if treatment drugs suppress the immune system. Lupus may even increase the risk of developing some types of cancer.
What Causes Lupus?
The cause of systemic lupus is unknown. Experts believe that it occurs due to a combination of genetics (having an inherited predisposition for developing it) and a person’s environment and lifestyle.
Possible causes/triggers of lupus include exposure to sunlight, tobacco consumption, and the use of certain blood pressure drugs, anti-seizure medications, and antibiotics. Symptoms may persist even after these drugs are stopped. Some infections may cause lupus.
What Are the Risk Factors of Lupus?
Gender and age increase your lupus risk. The disease is a lot more common in women with a family history of the autoimmune disease, which tends to develop between the ages of 15 and 45.
Ethnicity may also increase the risk of lupus. In the US, it appears to affect people of color (African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, etc.) more often than Caucasians. Vitamin D deficiency and cigarette smoking are other lupus risk factors.
How Is Lupus Diagnosed?
Diagnosing lupus is often difficult because symptoms can vary widely between sufferers and over time. Also, the symptoms can be similar to those experienced with many other health conditions.
To diagnose lupus, doctors will typically perform a physical examination and then order blood and urine tests. These may include a complete blood count, an erythrocyte sedimentation rate, a urinalysis, and an ANA test. A biopsy and imaging tests may also be required.
How Is Lupus Treated?
Lupus treatment primarily focuses on relieving symptoms and preventing flares with medications, but it depends on what causes lupus. If complications arise, then other forms of treatment are necessary.
Drugs that are commonly used to treat lupus include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, antimalarial drugs like hydroxychloroquine, and corticosteroids like prednisone. Doctors may also prescribe analgesics (opioids), rituximab, and other drugs.
Are There Any Lupus Home Remedies?
Yes, several home remedies for lupus can help to prevent flare-ups and control symptoms. Quit smoking. Exercise regularly. Eat a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Sun exposure should be avoided with lupus, as it can trigger flares. Lupus sufferers who can’t avoid it should wear protective clothing and use sunscreens with an SPF of at least 55 when outside. Taking vitamin D and calcium supplements may benefit some men and women.
How About Alternative Medicine for Lupus?
Unfortunately, there aren’t any alternative medicines or therapies for lupus that are proven to change the course of the disease. Some may help to ease the symptoms of lupus, though.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), for example, is said to relieve fatigue and muscle pain. Fish oil supplements may also ease symptoms while addressing the blood vessel damage many people with lupus experience. Acupuncture is another natural option for pain.
What Is the Prognosis of Lupus?
Thanks to advances in medicine and technology over the last 50 years, most people today who have lupus live normal lifespans, and many men and women can live relatively symptom-free lives.
In general, the prognosis tends to be worse for men and children, but early diagnosis and treatment lowers the risk of complications and mortality with lupus. Deaths from lupus usually occur due to organ failure/dysfunction and infections that overwhelm the body.