Lupus: Symptoms & Treatment
What is lupus?
Lupus is a type of autoimmune disease – which happens when the immune system malfunctions and attacks the body’s tissues. In the case of lupus, various body parts are affected and become inflamed, including joints, skin, heart, kidneys, brain, etc. When that happens, patients often notice symptoms such as rashes, fatigue, and joint pain.
Generally, lupus occurs when one’s body produces too many antibodies. Normally, these antibodies help to protect the body from potentially dangerous pathogens. Upon the development of lupus, the antibodies mistake your own cells as “invaders” and damage them, hence resulting in symptoms like infection and inflammation.
Types of lupus
Lupus can be classified into the following types:
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE): For now, this is the most common type of lupus – in fact, many people use the term “lupus” to refer to SLE. The condition is characterized by inflammation in different tissues and organs, including skin, joints, and kidneys.
- Lupus limited to the skin. As the name suggests, this type of lupus only affects the skin.
- Drug-Induced Lupus Erythematosus. This condition is caused by the consumption of certain medications and has symptoms similar to those of SLE. However, it will disappear a few months after you stop taking these drugs.
- Neonatal Lupus Erythematosus. If a mother has certain antibodies such as anti-RO and anti-La, her children may be affected by this form of lupus.
What are the main causes of Lupus?
As an autoimmune disease, Lupus happens when the immune system inappropriately damages the body cells. The exact reason for this remains unknown, though scientists believe that the causes of Lupus are a combination of genetic and environmental ones.
Overall, the below factors are believed to be potential causes of Lupus.
- Genetics. For those whose relative has lupus, the chance of them getting affected by the disease is from 5-13%. In addition, those who belong to ethnic groups such as Asian, African, and Latino are at a higher rate of getting lupus.
- Hormones. 90% of people with lupus are female, which prompts scientists to believe that there is a connection between the hormone estrogen and the disease. Specifically, estrogen helps strengthen the immune system, which then increases the risk of lupus.
- Environmental hazards. Exposure to environmental factors such as sunlight, smoke, and mercury may trigger the development of lupus.
- Medications. The intake of certain blood pressure medicines and antibiotics is associated with lupus, as many patients stop exhibiting symptoms after they stop taking them.
Lupus is not common, yet it is also not a rare disease. Approximately, 1 out of every 250 people has lupus. The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that about 1.5 million Americans are affected by the condition.
Generally speaking, Asians, Africans, and American Indians are at a higher risk of developing lupus. In addition, women account for 90% of people with the disease. Among them, those from 14-45 years old are more likely to be affected.
Signs & Symptoms
What are some common Lupus symptoms?
Depending on the condition’s severity, the signs of lupus may vary from patients to patients. Generally, the most common symptoms of lupus include:
- Joint pain and swelling;
- Extreme fatigue;
- Butterfly-shaped facial rashes. Aside from the face, skin rashes may appear on any body part;
- Sensitivity to sunlight;
- Difficulty breathing;
- Memory loss;
- Weight loss.
Often, the symptoms will appear and disappear from time to time. While some may go away forever, other symptoms may linger and get worse over time.
How dangerous is Lupus?
The disease’s severity differs from patients to patients. While some may only experience mild discomfort, lupus may prove to be life-threatening in certain cases.
In lupus, various body parts are attacked by the immune system. As a result, patients may suffer from the following problems:
- Cognitive impairments. As reported by the Lupus Research Alliance, 50% of people with lupus suffer from cognitive problems such as headaches and memory loss.
- Vision loss. Lupus patients often experience inflammation in the eye’s white protective layer, which then causes damage to the nerves responsible for eye movements.
- Skin problems. It is reported that as many as 70% of people with lupus develop extreme sensitivity to sunlight.
- Blood disorders. Some blood problems that patients may experience include anemia, vasculitis, leukopenia, etc.
- Heart disease. Over 50% of people with lupus will soon develop a heart disease, which is one of the most popular causes of death these days. In addition, lupus is also associated with risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Lung problems. About 50% of patients are affected by lung problems.
Generally, people with lupus can achieve a normal life expectancy. However, the complications that arise from the disease is more than enough to justify the need for an effective treatment.
Diagnosis & Treatment
As lupus shares many symptoms with other conditions, numerous tests may be required to properly diagnose it – including blood and urine tests, imaging tests, and skin biopsy. During the aforementioned tests, the doctors will generally check the patient’s number of blood cells, kidney and liver conditions, and the presence of antinuclear antibody (ANA).
Depending on each patient’s symptoms, the doctor will recommend a treatment plan accordingly. If the symptoms are pretty mild, treatment for lupus may not be necessary at all. In other cases, medications may aid in controlling the symptoms of lupus and reducing inflammation. The medicines that are often used in lupus treatment include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
- Antimalarial drugs.
- Belimumab (Benlysta).
- Rituximab (Rituxan).
The disadvantage of this pharmaceutical-based approach is the requirement for the frequent intake of medications, which is both costly and detrimental to patients’ well-being in the long run. Hence, researchers have been experimenting with a new treatment that promises great therapeutic potential – Stem cell therapy.
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Lupus – Diagnosis and Treatment. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lupus/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20365790. Accessed on November 5, 2019.
Lupus Causes and Prevention. https://www.webmd.com/lupus/understanding-lupus-prevention#1. Accessed on November 5, 2019.
Understanding Lupus — Treatment. https://www.webmd.com/lupus/understanding-lupus-treatment#1. Accessed on November 5, 2019.
What is my life expectancy if I have lupus? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/314431.php. Accessed on November 5, 2019.
Treating and managing lupus and preventing flares. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323665.php. Accessed on November 5, 2019.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). https://www.cdc.gov/lupus/facts/detailed.html. Accessed on November 5, 2019.
Types of Lupus. https://www.hopkinslupus.org/lupus-info/types-lupus/. Accessed on November 5, 2019.