What is lupus?
Lupus or systemic lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disorder that may affect skin, kidneys, brain, and other organs. According to Lupus Foundation of America, about 1.5 million people in U.S. have lupus. This condition is seen more in women than in men.
The actual cause of lupus is still unknown. Some of the factors that trigger the development of lupus include viruses, environmental factors and genetic makeup of the person. Since women are affected by lupus more than men, female hormones are considered to contribute positively to the development of this condition. Some studies indicate that lupus may be inherited in the family. Lupus is sometimes caused by certain prescription medications and in this case the symptoms will disappear once the drug is discontinued.
Symptoms of this disease differ depending on the individual. One of the reasons for this is that lupus may affect any part of the body. Some people may have very few symptoms while others may have many symptoms.
- Swollen joints
- Rashes in the skin
- Swelling in the ankle
- Pain in the chest
- Hair loss
- Pale or purple fingers
Most people who have lupus have skin conditions, including a red rash on their cheeks and on the bridge of their nose. In discoid lupus, large, red, circular rashes are seen which may later develop into a scar. The skin rashes formed in the subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus increases when exposed to sun light. These rashes can be seen on the arms, legs or the torso.
Patients with lupus are affected by arthritic pain with or without swelling in the joints. The stiffness and pain are more in the morning. About half of the people who have lupus suffer from kidney problems that may be life threatening for some. Reduction in the number of blood cells including red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets is another symptom of this condition. The changes in the blood count may cause fatigue, infections and bruises. Blood clots are also common in people with lupus. The clots may develop in the legs, lungs or the brain.
If the brain is involved in this condition patients may have confusion, depression, seizures, and sometimes stroke. Inflammation of the lungs and heart may cause chest pain, irregular heartbeat, and accumulation of fluid around lungs. As the heart valves and lungs are affected by lupus, it may result in shortness of breath.
This disease is generally diagnosed when a person has several characteristics of the condition. According to The American College of Rheumatology, a person is diagnosed to have lupus if he or she has at least four of the eleven criteria, which include:
- Presence of Malar rash or butterfly rash on the cheeks
- Discoid rash on the skin that leads to scarring
- Photo sensitivity
- Mouth sores
- Kidney disorders
- Neurological disorders including seizures or psychosis
- Inflammation in the lining of the lungs and heart
- Blood disorders
- Immunologic disorders
- Abnormal blood work
Treatment for lupus
The treatment extended for lupus depends on factors like age, type of drugs the person is taking, health of the person, medical history, severity of the disease and the location where lupus has affected. Since the condition changes with time, the patient should make periodic visits to the doctor. Some of the drugs which are used to treat this condition include:
Steroids – Creams containing steroids are applied to the skin rashes and are found to be effective in controlling mild rashes. It is also used when the condition affects internal organs.
Hydroxychloroquine – These drugs are useful in controlling symptoms including skin and joint problems.
Cyclophosphamide – This chemotherapy drug is used to suppress the activity of the immune system. It is found to be effective in treating severe forms of lupus that affect kidney and brain.
Azathioprine – This drug is commonly used to treat severe forms of lupus and is an immune suppressant.
Other drugs including methotrexate, mycophenolate mofetil and rituximab are also used when other therapies are not effective in controlling the symptoms.
Patients with lupus can take up a number of steps to improve their quality of life:
- Low-impact exercise
- Enough rest
- Eating well
- Avoiding alcohol
- Treating fever
- Knowing your disease and its symptoms
- Quitting smoking