Lupus: Symptoms, Treatment

Overview

Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in various parts of the body, including joints, kidneys and other organs, skin, blood and even the brain. It is also called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Autoimmune disease occurs when your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks your own tissues and organs. The most distinctive sign of lupus is a facial rash that resembles the wings of a butterfly across both cheeks.

It is estimated that at least 1.5 million people in the United States have lupus. About 70% of people worldwide have this condition. African American women are three times more likely than white women to have it. Hispanic, Asian and Native American women also have a higher incidence of lupus. People of all ages, races and sexes can get lupus, but 9 out of 10 adults with the disease are women between the ages of 15 and 45.


Causes

The exact cause of lupus remains unclear. But doctors think that it can be a combination of many underlying factors. These risk factors include:

  • Genetics.

People who have a family history of lupus are at a slightly higher risk for developing the condition.

  • Gender.

Studies show that women are, on the whole, ten times more likely to get affected than men. Some studies suggest that abnormal hormone levels, such as increased estrogen levels, could contribute to lupus.

  • Age.

Individuals between the ages of 15 and 45 are more likely to get affected than other age groups.

  • Race

Cases show that the African Americans and Asians are at a higher risk.

  • Infections.

The link between infections like cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr, or hepatitis C and causes of lupus are under study.

  • Medications.

Long-term use of certain medications, such as hydralazine (Apresoline) and quinidine, have been associated with causing a form of lupus known as drug-induced lupus erythematosus.

  • Environment.

Some experts believe that exposure to the sunlight can cause lupus.


Symptoms

The symptoms of lupus vary according to affected parts of your body and the type of lupus. Symptoms can disappear suddenly. They can also be permanent or flare up occasionally. Although there are no two same lupus cases, the most common symptoms and signs include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Hair loss
  • Skin lesions
  • Chest pain
  • Chronic dry eyes and mouth
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Shortness of breath
  • Joint swelling, stiffness and pain
  • Rashes, especially butterfly-shaped rashes on the cheeks
  • Headaches, confusion and memory loss
  • Pale or purple fingers or toes from cold or stress


Diagnosis

Diagnosing lupus can be difficult and time-consuming because its symptoms frequently mimic those of other diseases. Definite diagnosis is harder when the symptoms of lupus occur and disappear suddenly. In addition to the physical examination on family history and symptoms, some lab tests may be helpful in the diagnosis. They include:

Imaging tests like chest X-rays and echocardiograms may indicate the buildup of fluid on or around the heart. Sometimes doctors can take a biopsy or sample of cells from an area of lupus-like rash to determine if cells typical of a person with lupus are present.


Treatment

There is no cure for lupus currently. Medications that can help control lupus symptoms include:

Diet is an important part of treatment. A balanced diet should be made up of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as low-fat dairy and lean sources of protein.

Rest and physical activity are also important. When disease is active and joints are painful, swollen or stiff, it is important to rest to reduce inflammation and fatigue. When disease activity is low, however, it is very important to get regular exercise, including low-impact aerobic activity, muscle strengthening and flexibility exercises.


Keywords: lupus; systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.