Lupus Disease: Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

lupus-symptomsLupus is a chronic autoimmune disease, where the body’s immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks healthy tissues. This leads to symptoms such as pain, swelling, inflammation and damage to the joints, skin, lungs, kidneys and heart. Normally, the body’s immune system creates antibodies that help to fight against foreign invaders (bacteria and viruses). However, with lupus, the immune system fails to differentiate between healthy tissues and foreign bodies, and as a result, it produces antibodies that attack healthy body tissues.

Though it can affect whites, lupus is more prevalent in people of African American, Hispanic and Asian origins. In addition, women between the ages of 15 and 45 are more at risk (nine times more) of being affected than men.

Types

Several types of lupus have been identified, but the main ones include, discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE), and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Discoid lupus erythematosus is limited only to the skin, and is characterized by rashes that appear on the scalp, neck and face.

Systemic lupus erythematosus, on the other hand, is the type that many people refer to as lupus. It’s more serious and can attack the skin, causing raised, scaly rashes, as well as other vital body organs, like the joints, heart, lungs, kidneys, joints, brain and blood vessels. Effects of SLE on body organs include kidney disease, seizures, depression, stroke and sore fingers among others.

Causes

The exact cause of lupus is unknown, but doctors believe that it is triggered by multiple factors such as heredity, environment, hormones, and medications.

  • Heredity – Since lupus occurs mostly within families, doctors believe that inheriting the genes increases one’s risk of being affected. However, this is more likely to happen only after getting exposed to an environmental trigger.
  • Environmental stimuli – Factors such as overexposure to direct sunlight, severe emotional stress, and infections (both viral and bacterial) can trigger the disease.
  • Hormones – Since more women than men are affected by lupus, doctors believe that it is triggered by female hormones, such as estrogens.
  • Medications – Certain types of antibiotics, as well as blood pressure and anti-seizure medications can also trigger lupus. However, such symptoms usually disappear when the medication is stopped.

Symptoms

Many people who suffer from lupus, experience flares and recessions i.e. episodes when the disease gets worse for some time, then disappear completely or improve for a certain period. The symptoms may be mild or severe, and can last between 6 weeks, to up to several years. They include rashes on the face, joint pains, swellings, shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, memory loss, depression, as well as toes and fingers that turn blue or white due to stress or exposure to cold.

When to See the Doctor

Patients should see the doctor immediately when they experience persistent pains and fevers, and unexplained rashes.

Treatment 

There is no cure for lupus, but there are several treatment options that help to relieve its symptoms. The most common medications include:

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) – NSAIDs like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, etc.), can be bought over the counter to relieve pain, fever and swelling associated with lupus. More potent NSAIDs are only available through prescription. Note that these drugs can cause side effects, including kidney problems, stomach bleeding and increased risk of developing heart problems.

  • Antimalarial Drugs – Though they are mainly used for treating malaria, antimalarial drugs such as, Plaquenil can help control lupus.
  • Corticosteroids – Corticosteroids such as, Prednisone helps to counter the inflammation caused by lupus. However, it is associated with side effects like weight gain, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, easy bruising and diabetes, which increase with higher dosage, and long-term use.

Other than medications, here are simple measures that can help prevent lupus flares:

  • Adequate Rest – Napping during the day and getting plenty of rest at night can help relieve the persistent fatigue caused by lupus.
  • Sun Protection – Since UV light triggers lupus, it is important that patients protect themselves when going out in the sun. This can be done by wearing protecting clothing and using good sunscreens (with an SPF of at least 50).
  • Regular Exercise – Working out regularly also helps to recover faster from a flare, and reduces the risk of developing a heart attack.
  • Healthy Diet – Eat a healthy diet composed of whole grains, fruits and vegetables to help to control lupus.

Overall, lupus may not have a known cure, but with drugs, healthy living and support from family and friends, it is possible for one to live a long, healthy and productive life.

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