8 Facts Everyone Should Know About Lupus

Did you know that Lupus is an autoimmune disease? That means that your body’s immune system, which is normally supposed to fight off infections and diseases, mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. Lupus can affect any part of the body, including the skin, joints, and internal organs. Here are eight facts about Lupus that everyone should know.

Lupus facts

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is the most common form of Lupus. Every year, 150 cases are detected in the United States alone.

Here are 8 facts everyone should know about lupus:

  1. It is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects many organ systems in the body such as the: skin, musculoskeletal, renal, neuropsychiatric, hematologic, cardiovascular, pulmonary, and reproductive systems. This is a disease whereby the immune system attacks its tissues and cells, causing inflammation and damage to many organs.
  2. Affects women more than men. One of the risk factors for developing SLE is gender. The prevalence of SLE in women is significantly higher than in men. Women of childbearing or reproductive age (15 to 44 years old) are specifically at higher risk.
8 Facts Everyone Should Know About Lupus

Lupus in women raises the risk of developing other health problems such as:

Heart disease, specifically coronary artery disease (CAD) due to chronic inflammation. Having lupus, women experience joint pains, easy fatigability, and muscle pain, all limiting physical activity which increases the risk for CAD. Lupus also increases the risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. 

Osteoporosis. Since most of the medications for lupus cause bone loss, osteoporosis occurs earlier in women with SLE. 

Lupus Nephritis. This kidney disease is one of the complications of lupus. It often begins the first 5 years after SLE symptoms appear. Early detection is vital in managing this kidney problem. 

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3. SLE flares can be triggered by stress. Stress is any external stimuli that affect a person’s general well-being. It decreases the person’s immune system caused by stress-induced fatigue, thereby triggering flares in autoimmune diseases. 

4. Lupus can be difficult to diagnose. As previously mentioned, SLE can affect the skin, musculoskeletal, renal, neuropsychiatric, hematologic, cardiovascular, pulmonary, and reproductive systems. Widespread inflammation can cause non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, rash, and joint pains, and can overlap with other common conditions. Moreover, the biomarkers for SLE yield negative results early in the course of the disease. Additional presenting symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, and fever with no origin of infection. 

Lupus causes butterfly malar rash on the face. 

5. A malar rash or malar flush is a rash on the nose and cheeks. Some call it a butterfly rash because of its shape. This is an acute manifestation of lupus and affects about 46%-65% of the patients with SLE. 

6. SLE can mimic other diseases. All autoimmune diseases have a common denominator, and that is widespread inflammation. It is very tricky to diagnose and often causes a delay in diagnosis since the presenting symptoms are non-specific. The malar rash can also be caused by rosacea and other skin disorders.

8 Facts Everyone Should Know About Lupus

Lupus can mimic other autoimmune diseases such as:

7. There is no cure for lupus. The treatment goal for SLE is to manage the symptoms into remission, reduce flare-ups, and limit the amount of organ damage.  

8. SLE can cause psychosis. This chronic autoimmune disease affects the neuropsychiatric system hence it can cause depression, anxiety, and frank psychosis. 

Overview of SLE

Lupus is an invisible disease. It is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects multiple organ systems in the body.

It affects women of reproductive age and has a higher incidence rate among women than men. Having a family history of SLE significantly increases your risk of developing the disease.

African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American women are more likely to develop the condition than Caucasian women.

The cause for SLE is unclear. But possible factors have been considered:

  • Hormonal changes. Estrogen is said to be a factor that predisposes women of childbearing age to have a higher risk of having SLE.
  • Environmental factors such as the amount of sunlight you’re exposed to, medications you have taken, infections, and stress are all possible causes of lupus. 
  • There may be a genetic factor to lupus. If you have family members who have lupus, your risk of the disease is increased.

The presenting signs and symptoms of lupus are non-specific and can cause an overlap with other diseases and a delay in diagnosis. These symptoms take time to develop.

8 Facts Everyone Should Know About Lupus

These include:

  • Joint pain.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Rashes.
  • Fever.
  • Sensitivity to sunlight.
  • Hair loss.
  • Mouth sores.
  • Dry eyes.
  • Fatigue.
  • Chest pain.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Swollen glands.
  • Headaches.
  • Confusion.
  • Depression.
  • Issues with the kidneys, heart, or lungs.
  • Seizures.
  • Blood clots.
  • Anemia.
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon.

It is fairly difficult to diagnose SLE as it can mimic other autoimmune diseases. Diagnosis of SLE involves a thorough family medical history, as well as your medical history.

Laboratory procedures such as blood tests and antibody tests [antinuclear antibody (ANA) test] will also be done to confirm the diagnosis. Patients with SLE usually test positive for ANA. 

The goal of treatment of SLE is to manage symptoms into remission, lessen the damage to organs, and reduce the occurrence of flare-ups. Management of disease will depend on the signs and symptoms you are currently experiencing, your age, the severity of your disease, your general well-being, your mental health, and the type of medications you may be taking.

SLE can be unpredictable hence most flares occur without any warning. Complications can also occur early in patients with SLE. 

8 Facts Everyone Should Know About Lupus

The common medications given to SLE patients include:

  • Steroids (corticosteroids, including prednisone) – for mild to moderate symptoms
  • Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil®) – used for mild lupus-related problems
  • Azathioprine (Imuran®) – used to treat more serious features of SLE
  • Methotrexate (Rheumatrex®) –is a chemotherapy drug that is given to suppress the immune system. 
  • Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan®) and mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept®) –are also chemotherapy drugs used to treat more severe forms of SLE, specifically those with kidney involvement. 
  • Belimumab (Benlysta®) – this is a monoclonal antibody that reduces the production of white blood cells that make antibodies. This is commonly used for those patients with no kidney problems. 
  • Rituximab (Rituxan®) – the mechanism of this drug is the same as that of Belimumab. 

Living with Lupus

With close follow-up and strict compliance with your treatment plan, you can live your life normally. 80% to 90% can expect a normal life span when they are compliant and adherent.

Although Lupus is a serious disease, there are many ways to manage it. There is still no cure for Lupus, but with the right treatment plan, most people can live a normal life.

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If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with Lupus, be sure to talk to your doctor about the best way to manage the disease.

There are many resources available online and through support groups that can help you learn more about living with Lupus.

Always follow your physician’s instructions, take your medications as prescribed, and know when to seek help for flares or medication side effects.

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