When the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs, the condition is known as Lupus. This condition creates an inability for the immune system to differentiate between antigens and healthy tissues. Antigens are substances that cause the immune system to produce antibodies against it. These can be foreign substances from the environment like bacteria, chemicals, viruses, or pollen.
Facts about lupus:
There are some facts you should be aware of as they will help you in your life. Those facts are given here:
• Lupus is known as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
• Drug-induced, discoid, and neonatal are the other types of lupus
• 5 million people around the world suffer from some form of Lupus
• People between the ages of 15 and 40 are at high risk of getting attacked by lupus.
• Six to 10 times more common in females as compared to males.
• Number of cases vary and range from 1.8 to 7.6 per 100,000 persons a year in parts of the continental United States.
What is lupus?
Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks own tissues and organs. The inflammation caused by lupus may affect different body systems, including joints, kidneys, skin, blood cells, heart and lungs, and the brain. This condition is difficult to diagnose, as its signs mimic other ailments and the most common symptom of this condition is a facial rash like the wings of a butterfly across both the cheeks. Basically, facial rash occurs in many cases but not all cases of lupus.
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Who gets affected by lupus?
As per the reports published by the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA), an estimated 1.5 to 2 million Americans have some form of lupus. This condition is prevalent among Northern Europeans and also among African-Americans. Researchers have also shown that lupus affects both males and females. African-American women are greater sufferers with a higher mortality rate. There are various risk factors of lupus including exposure to sunlight, certain medication, and chemicals.
Causes of lupus:
Lupus is a condition when the immune system of a person attacks healthy tissues in the body. There are various factors that cause lupus, including the combination of genetics and environment. Combination here refers to when lupus already exists or has existed in the family and when it comes into contact with something in the environment that can trigger lupus.
Moreover, the increasing number of lupus cases in females as compared to males indicates that the disease can be triggered by certain hormones like estrogen. This hormone regulates the progression of the lupus, as the symptoms tend to flare up before menstrual periods and/or during pregnancy. However, apart from the genetic causes, there are certain environmental factors that are known to cause lupus symptoms. These include the following:
• Exposure to ultraviolet light (sunlight)
• Extreme stress
• Chemical exposure
• Some medications and antibiotics
• Infections like parvovirus, hepatitis C infections, cytomegalovirus (CMV), and the Epstein-Barr virus (in children).
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Symptoms of lupus:
Signs and symptoms of lupus may vary from person to person, as no two cases of lupus are exactly same. General signs and symptoms of lupus come on suddenly or develop slowly. These symptoms may be mild or severe and may be temporary or permanent. It has been reported that most people with lupus have mild symptoms which are characterized by episodes known as flares. Some common signs and symptoms of lupus include:
• Joint pain, stiffness and swelling
• Skin lesions appear especially on hands, face, arms, and back when exposed to sun
• Fatigue and fever
• Butterfly-shaped rash on the face
• Chest pain
• Dry eyes
• Shortness of breath
• Headaches and memory loss
• Hair loss
• Blood clotting problems
• Fingers turning white or blue or red in the cold, resembling Raynaud’s phenomenon
Lupus can also lead to complications that can affect many areas of the body. These include:
• Kidneys- For lupus sufferers kidney damage is the primary cause of death. Chest pain, vomiting, nausea, and swelling (edema) are some of the common symptoms of kidney problems.
• Brain or central nervous system- When the brain gets affected by lupus, the victim may experience headaches, behavior changes, hallucinations, dizziness, and strokes. Moreover, some people with lupus experience difficulty in expressing their thoughts.
• Blood and blood vessels- People with lupus are at increased risk of bleeding or blood clotting and anemia. In addition, lupus can also cause inflammation of the blood vessels.
• Cancer- Lupus also increases the risk of cancer. People are at higher risk of developing lung cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and liver cancer.
• Pregnancy- Lupus may increase the risk of hypertension, miscarriage, and preterm birth.
• Heart- There is an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and heart attacks in people with lupus condition.
• Infection- People with lupus become prone to infections. This is because the disease and its treatment weaken the immune system of the body, slowing down the ability of the body to fight infections. Infections that affect people with lupus include respiratory, yeast, and urinary tract, herpes and shingles.
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As signs and symptoms of lupus vary from person to person there is no single lupus test that can confirm the condition. Moreover, symptoms of lupus tend to change as time progresses and resembles other disorders and diseases. These fluctuations make lupus diagnosis extremely challenging. But, below are various lupus tests that are sufficient to confirm diagnosis of the condition:
• Complete blood count- This test includes the measurement of the number of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. If the test indicates anemia, which is common in lupus, then the diagnosis of the disease is confirmed.
• Erythrocyte sedimentation rate- This blood test is dependent on sedimentation process, as this test determines the rate at which red blood cells settle to the bottom. If blood settles faster than normal rate then it may indicate a systemic disease, which is lupus.
• Kidney and liver assessment- Blood tests show how well the kidneys and liver are functioning, as lupus can affect these organs.
• Urinalysis – If this test shows an increased protein level or red blood cells in the urine, it might confirm the condition as the previously mentioned condition only happens when lupus has affected the kidneys.
Apart from the above mentioned diagnostic tests, your physician or doctor may perform imaging tests and biopsy to confirm the lupus diagnosis.
Treatment of lupus:
Fact – there is no cure for lupus right now, but there are certain medications and drugs that can help in providing relief and controlling the symptoms. These are mentioned below:
• Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – Drugs like Naproxen and Ibuprofen may be prescribed by the doctors to treat pain, swelling and fever associated with lupus.
• Antimalarial drugs- Medication like Hydroxychloroquine, which is widely used to treat malaria can also help in controlling symptoms of lupus. Some of the side effects of this medication include stomach upset and rare damage to the retina.
• Corticosteroids- Prednisone is a corticosteroid which has the capability to counter the inflammation of lupus. But, patients are advised to take corticosteroids only by prescription, as these produce long-term side effects like weight gain, thinning of bones, diabetes, and problems of high blood pressure.
• Immune suppressants- Drugs like Azathioprine, Mycophenolate, Cyclophosphamide, Leflunomide and Methotrexate are highly recommended to treat the symptoms of lupus. The downside is that people may expose themselves to the risk of becoming susceptible to infections, decreased fertility, and liver damage after taking these immune suppressants.