What is lupus?
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints and causes inflammation in other systems as well.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system of the body attacks healthy tissue. It affects joints, skin, brain, lungs, kidneys and blood vessels, leading to inflammation and tissue damage of the affected organs. More than 90% of cases occur in females.
What are the 12 symptoms of lupus?
- Muscle weakness
- Arthralgia (joint pain)
- Sun sensitivity
- Butterfly shaped rash on the face
- Oral ulcers
- Blood cell abnormalities like anemia
- Fever due to Immunological abnormalities
- Loss of appetite
- Chest pain caused due to inflammation of the lining that surrounds the lung (pleuritis) and the heart (pericarditis)
- Raynaud’s phenomenon (poor blood circulation to the fingers and toes with cold exposure)
- Vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels)
Some adults may have a period of SLE symptoms known as flares which resolve and are separated by periods of remission. The frequency of flares and remission varies among people, sometimes extending to years.
How does a person get lupus?
The exact cause of SLE is unknown. Researchers believe a combination of environmental, genetic and hormonal factors may contribute to getting lupus.
Environmental factors include:
- Exposure to UV rays
- Microbial response
- Certain medications
- Silica dust
- Cigarette smoking
- Sensitivity to light
Other risk factors include:
- Family history of SLE
- Female sex
- Chronic infections
- Use of estrogen in menopausal women
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Pregnancy (but breastfeeding has shown to decrease the risk of SLE)
Early-life risk factors include:
- Low birth weight (<2,500 g)
- Preterm birth (birth that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy)
- Exposure to pesticides during childhood
What are the complications of lupus?
The complications that accompany SLE are as follows:
- Lupus nephritis (kidney problems caused by Lupus)
- Dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing)
- Lymphadenopathy (swollen lymph nodes)
- Lupoid hepatitis (liver disease)
- Fibromyalgia (muscle pain and tenderness)
- Pancreatitis (inflammation in pancreas)
- Coronary heart disease (damage or disease in the heart’s major artery)
- Blood clots
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
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How is lupus diagnosed?
Physicians diagnose SLE with the help of the following laboratory tests:
- Special blood tests such as antinuclear antibodies, anti-double-stranded DNA tests and antiphospholipid antibodies (lupus anticoagulant)
- Complete blood cell count (CBC) to screen for anemia and thrombocytopenia
- Serum creatinine for kidney disease
- Urinalysis for kidney disease
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein (CRP) for inflammation
- Liver function tests
Ultimately, a skin biopsy is performed to confirm the diagnosis.
How is lupus treated?
There is no permanent cure for SLE. Management of SLE depends on disease severity and disease manifestations.
Hydroxychloroquine is effective in the long-term treatment of SLE.
Immunosuppressive medicines help to inhibit the activity of the immune system, which can be useful in treating SLE.
Can a person die from lupus?
Lupus disease along with other medical conditions can be a contributing cause of death. Mainly conditions such as kidney diseases, heart diseases or infection secondary to lupus can be strong contributing factors