Lupus is an inflammatory autoimmune disease. This means that the body’s own immune system attacks the organs and tissues, causing inflammation. In order to learn what is lupus disease in depth, it’s important to know which body parts are affected by it.
Lupus can affect many parts of the body including the skin, joints, blood cells, kidneys, brain, lungs, and heart.
What are lupus disease’s signs and symptoms? Sometimes, symptoms are very similar to those that appear in other medical conditions, making it difficult to diagnose in some cases. People who have lupus disease often develop a distinctive rash that helps diagnose the condition. The butterfly rash appears on the face, resembling a butterfly with open wings. However, this sign does not occur in all cases.
In some people who are born with a tendency to develop the disease, lupus can be triggered by certain medications, an infection, or in some cases, even sunlight. There is no treatment that will cure lupus disease, but symptoms can be controlled with medical treatment.
What is Lupus Disease’s Prevalence
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease with a wide variety of clinical signs and symptoms, including:
- Sores in the mouth
- Kidney problems
- Abnormalities of the blood cells
Lupus disease can occur in people of any age, but it primarily occurs in young women. Most people who develop lupus are between 15 and 40 years old. It is less common in Caucasians than in African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans.
What is lupus disease’s uncommon trait? There does seem to be a strong tendency for lupus to run in families, but the illness is fairly uncommon.
Most cases of lupus occur with other autoimmune disorders such as idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura, hemolytic anemia, and thyroiditis.
What is lupus disease? It’s where the body is attacked by its own immune system. Most scientists believe that lupus occurs due to a combination of factors in the environment and hereditary factors. It seems as though most people who have a genetic tendency towards lupus disease develop the condition when something in the environment triggers it. In most cases, the exact cause of lupus is not known. Potential triggers include:
- Sunlight: Exposure to sunlight may trigger skin lesions associated with lupus or an internal reaction in some people who have a tendency toward the illness.
- Infections: The presence of an infection can trigger the first episode of lupus or cause a relapse of symptoms in some people who have the disease.
- Medications: Certain types of medications such as blood pressure pills, antibiotics and some types of drugs used for seizures can trigger lupus. People whose lupus is caused by drugs usually experience resolution of their symptoms when the offending medication is stopped.
What is Lupus Disease’s Risk Factors?
Certain factors may increase the risk of developing lupus disease. These include:
- Sex: Lupus occurs much more frequently in women than in men.
- Age: People of any age can develop lupus, but it is most frequently diagnosed in people who are between 15 and 40 years old
- Race: Lupus occurs more frequently in Hispanics, Asians, and African-Americans than it does in Caucasians.
What are Lupus Disease’s Complications?
Lupus disease causes inflammation that may affect many different areas of the body. This can include the:
- Kidneys: One of the leading causes of death due to lupus is kidney failure. Symptoms of kidney involvement include swelling of the feet and legs, itching of the body, nausea and vomiting and chest pain.
- Brain and central nervous system: Sometimes people with lupus have inflammation of the brain and the central nervous system (CNS). This can cause problems remembering things or problems with verbal expression. Other symptoms of brain or CNS involvement include behaviour changes, headaches, dizziness, hallucinations, strokes or seizures.
- Blood and blood vessels: Anemia or other problems with the blood, such as bleeding, blood clots or inflamed blood vessels may be a result of lupus.
- Lungs: Lupus disease can cause inflammation of the lining of the chest. This can make breathing painful. Lupus can also increase the risk of pneumonia.
- Heart: People with lupus are at increased risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease. Lupus disease can also cause inflammation of the arteries of the heart, the heart membrane or the heart muscle itself.
What is lupus disease other complications? People with lupus disease are also at increased risk of:
- Infection: Lupus disease increases the risk of infection because it weakens the body’s ability to fight infection. The medications used to treat the disease sometimes lower the body’s immunity as well. The types of infections most common in patients with lupus disease include respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, yeast infections, shingles, herpes, and salmonella.
- Cancer: What is lupus disease’s scariest complication? People with lupus disease appear to be at increased risk of developing cancer.
- Bone tissue death (avascular necrosis): The hip joint is most often affected by this condition that occurs when the bone doesn’t receive enough blood. Without an adequate blood supply, the bone develops tiny breaks that cause it to eventually collapse. People with lupus disease are more likely than the general population to develop this condition.
- Pregnancy complications: Women who have lupus disease and are pregnant are at increased risk of miscarriage due to preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy) and preterm delivery. To help reduce these risks, it is often recommended that lupus disease is controlled for at least six months before a woman attempt to become pregnant.
Lupus – Symptoms
Lupus affects every person differently. The symptoms in women may develop slowly, or they may come about very quickly. They can be severe or very mild, and they can be permanent or only temporary. Most people who have lupus have a mild form of the disease. It is characterized by periods when the disease exacerbates or flares up, and then the symptoms of lupus in women improve, or may even totally disappear for a while.
The signs and symptoms of lupus in women vary, depending on which part of the body is affected. Some of the most typical symptoms of lupus in women include:
- Fever and fatigue or weakness
- Joint stiffness, pain, and swelling
- Butterfly rash on the face. This rash is over the bridge of the nose and the cheeks
- Photosensitivity (exposure to the sun causes or intensifies lesions on the skin)
- Raynaud’s phenomenon (toes and fingers turn blue or white when cold, or during times of stress)
- Difficulty breathing
- Pain in the chest
- Dry eyes
- Confusion, headaches, and memory loss
There are also symptoms of lupus in women which can be detected early. These include:
- Hair loss
- Pulmonary problems
- Kidney problems
- Joint swelling and inflammation
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Thyroid problems
- Dry mouth and eyes
Most people who are found to have lupus always experience fatigue and fevers. Fevers ranging from 98.5˚F (36.9˚C) to 101˚F (38.3˚C) can also be a symptom of lupus. If you experience recurring low-grade fever, it would be best to see a doctor right away.
The rundown of potential side effects of lupus is long. Different signs and symptoms in women also include ulcers, enlarged lymph nodes, muscle pain, chest pain, osteoporosis, anxiety, and depression. Uncommon symptoms of lupus include sudden weakness, anemia, dizziness, and seizures.
Luckily, not every person gets the mentioned side effects. While new signs and symptoms of lupus in women can show up, some often disappear.
When to see your doctor
If you develop a persistent fever, aching or unexplained fatigue and weakness or an unexplained rash, notify your healthcare provider. It would be best to watch out for any of the mentioned signs and symptoms of lupus in women to be able to treat it early.
Because the signs and symptoms in women vary so much in different individuals, diagnosing lupus can sometimes be difficult. The symptoms can be similar to those of other diseases and they may change over time. There is no one diagnostic test for lupus. A combination of laboratory tests, physical signs and symptoms of lupus in women and examination by a physician leads to a diagnosis of lupus.
Laboratory tests for lupus may include:
- A Complete blood count: This is a blood test that measures the number of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets, and also measures the amount of a protein known as hemoglobin, that is present in the red blood cells. These results may indicate the presence of anemia, a condition that is common in lupus. Low platelet and white blood cell levels may also occur in lupus.
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate: This blood test is usually elevated in any condition that causes inflammation in the body, and it is not specific for lupus. It may be elevated in cases of lupus, but other conditions like an infection or cancer can cause an elevated sedimentation rate also.
- Kidney and liver assessment: Lupus can affect how well the liver and kidneys are working. Certain blood tests are able to determine if there is an abnormality in the functioning of these organs.
- Urinalysis: If lupus affects the kidneys, protein or red blood cells may be present in the urine. An analysis of the urine can reveal if these are present.
- Antinuclear antibody (ANA) test: Most individuals with a positive ANA test do not have lupus, but on the other hand, people with lupus generally do have ANA antibodies so their test is positive. These antibodies are produced by the immune system when it is stimulated. When an ANA test is positive and other symptoms of lupus in women are present, doctors often recommend further antibody tests.
If lupus is suspected of affecting the heart or lungs, the following tests may be recommended:
- Chest X-ray: This test produces an image of the chest that can show if there is inflammation or a buildup of fluid in the lungs.
- Echocardiogram: Sound waves are used in this test to produce pictures of the heart in real-time. It is used to see if inflammation caused by lupus is affecting the heart valves or other areas of the heart.
Lupus can damage the kidneys in various ways. Depending on the type of damage, treatments may vary. Sometimes it becomes necessary to obtain a small section of tissue from the kidney to determine what course of treatment to follow. To obtain a tissue sample, a small incision might be made, or the tissue may be aspirated through a needle.
Treatment for Lupus
The treatment for lupus depends on what signs and symptoms are present. Determining what medication to use and whether the symptoms should be treated is thoroughly discussed with the patient. As the symptoms flare and then subside, medications may need to be changed or dosages altered. Some medications commonly used in the treatment of lupus include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs that can be purchased over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen are often used to treat the pain, fever, and swelling of lupus. Stronger NSAIDs as the treatment for lupus requires a physician’s prescription. Side effects caused by NSAIDs include kidney problems, stomach bleeding, and an increased risk of heart problems.
- Antimalarial drugs: Drugs that are typically used to treat malaria such as hydroxychloroquine can help control the symptoms of lupus. Side effects of these medications can include an upset stomach and rarely, damage to the retina of the eye can occur.
- Corticosteroids: Steroids such as prednisone as treatment for lupus are powerful anti-inflammatories and help control the symptoms of lupus but they carry the risk of severe long-term side effects such as osteoporosis, diabetes, an increased risk of infection, high blood pressure, weight gain and increased bruising. The risk of these side effects increases with long-term therapy and with higher doses of corticosteroids.
- Immunosuppressants: Medications that suppress the body’s immune system are sometimes used in severe cases of lupus. Examples of these include methotrexate, azathioprine, and mycophenolate. Possible side effects include liver damage, an increased risk of infection, decreased fertility, liver damage, and an increased risk of developing cancer. A newer medication, belimumab, is now available as a treatment for lupus to help reduce the symptoms of lupus in some individuals. Side effects of this drug include diarrhea, nausea, and fever.
Complementary or alternative medicine sometimes is helpful as a treatment for lupus. These are most often used in addition to conventional treatment. Be sure to discuss these therapies with your physician before beginning them. Your doctor can help you determine if alternative treatment for lupus can be beneficial or if they will interfere with your current therapy regimen.
Alternative and complementary treatment for lupus may include:
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA): This is a hormone that, when taken as a supplement, may reduce the number of steroids needed to stabilize the symptoms of lupus in some people.
- Fish oil: Fish oil supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful for individuals who have lupus.
- Vitamin D: Some studies suggest that supplemental vitamin D may benefit people with lupus.
People who have lupus can take some simple steps to help prevent flare-ups or exacerbation of the disease. If flares occur, these measures can help people cope with the signs and symptoms of lupus. These steps that serve as the treatment for lupus include:
- Seeing the doctor on a regular basis: Getting regular examinations, rather than waiting to be seen when lupus flares, may help prevent exacerbation of the disease. Regular checkups are also a good time to address general health issues like diet, stress reduction and exercise.
- Getting enough rest: The persistent fatigue that accompanies lupus isn’t the same as normal feelings of being tired and it often isn’t relieved by normal periods of rest. Because of that, people with lupus can find it difficult to know when they need to slow their pace. Additional breaks or naps during the day may be needed in addition to adequate sleep at night.
- Being sun savvy: Ultraviolet light may trigger an episode of lupus, so people with the condition need to wear protective clothing when they go outside. This includes, in addition to sunscreen with at least an SPF (sun protection factor) of 55, long-sleeved shirt, a hat, and long pants.
- Exercising regularly: Getting regular exercise can help prevent depression, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and help promote feelings of good overall health and well-being.
- Quitting smoking: Smoking cigarettes increase the risk of damage to the blood vessels and heart caused by lupus, and smoking also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Eating a healthy diet: A healthy diet includes mostly vegetables and fruits and whole grain foods. Some people with lupus have restrictions on their diet related to gastrointestinal problems, kidney problems or high blood pressure.
People with lupus often have a wide range of emotions related to their condition, from anxiety and fear to anger and frustration. It can be challenging to live with chronic illness and this increases the risk of depression and problems related to mental health, such as low self-esteem, stress, and anxiety. To help deal with lupus, patients often find it helpful to:
- Learn about their disease: Writing down questions before an appointment with the doctor can help make sure they are addressed with the physician. The doctor and nurse caring for the patient are reliable sources of information and can usually provide answers to most questions. It’s usually easier to make decisions related to treatment for lupus after questions have been addressed and anxiety is lessened.
- Gather support from family and friends: Because the signs and symptoms of lupus aren’t always visible, friends and family of patients may not know the patient isn’t feeling well unless they are told. Talking about the illness with trusted loved ones can help relieve some of the burden caused by a chronic condition. Asking for help is often one of the best steps people with lupus can take to cope with their illness.
- Take time for yourself: Taking time for themselves helps people with lupus to cope with stress. Relaxing with meditation, listening to music, or reading can be helpful. Some people find it helpful to journal or to practice deep breathing.
- Connect with others: Connecting with other people who have lupus in a support group can provide a unique opportunity to share experiences with others with similar experiences. Physicians often know of support groups meeting in their community or patients can look online.