Healthy Living

Lupus: Beware of Overlap Syndromes

Lupus: It's More than a Single Disease

A variety of diseases that exist today can sometimes bring about more questions than answers. Conditions bring with them a variety of symptoms, sometimes resembling a common itch, and ache and so on.  Because of this, the likelihood of a patient recognizing what exactly they may have can be extremely difficult. In some cases, even doctors can fail to properly diagnose certain diseases. A condition that proves to be difficult to recognize includes lupus. Lupus comes in a multitude of forms, some of which consist of systemic lupus erythematosus and sub-acute cutaneous lupus erythematosus. However, many have trouble differentiating the forms of lupus and refer to them as one single disease.

Sub-acute cutaneous lupus erythematosus can initially present itself in the form of a rash. This seemingly harmless symptom, however, can remain on a patient’s body for a prolonged period of time, ultimately signaling a possibility for lupus.

As is the case with any seemingly harmless symptom, patients must be diligent in going to doctors to better understand what may (or may not) be happening. With sub-acute cutaneous lupus erythematosus, the most obvious symptom occurs on the surface of the skin. The condition, specifically referred to as a skin condition, can start as small, red and scale-like bumps. 

These bumps will tend to form on a patient’s shoulders, torso, forearms and neck, yet do not normally become present on the face. Due to the fact that these regions could resemble any type of skin condition, it is extremely important that immediate action is taken.  If not, the rashes on the skin may very well be sub-acute cutaneous lupus erythematosus.

The different types of lupus

Sub-acute cutaneous lupus erythematosus can take on a variety of forms, in terms of symptoms, but more importantly, the condition may be linked to other serious medical issues. The disease can potentially be tied to Sjögren’s syndrome, a disorder by which the body’s immune system makes attacks on itself through the damaging of healthy cells, specifically those associated with the production of saliva and tears.  Sub-acute cutaneous lupus erythematosus comes in the form of a rash, and can even resemble a peeling sunburn in some ways.  Of the patients who have been diagnosed with this condition, roughly half of them also experience joint involvement.  This skin condition has been known to run in families, another reason why frequent check-ups in the event of skin irritation or rashes are present on a patient. 

Sub-acute cutaneous lupus erythematosus can show itself with a variety of symptoms.  This being said, one patient’s experiences with the skin condition may very well differ from another with the same condition.  Although this holds to be true, treatments and maintenance of the skin condition can include sunscreen, topical corticosteroids, as well as anti-malarial agents.  These treatments are some of the more common ways to suppress symptoms associated with sub-acute cutaneous lupus erythematosus, however, some cases may require additional agents in order to control the disease.

Systemic lupus erythematosus, on the other hand, is classified as a type of autoimmune disease.  Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system attacks the body, due to the to an error where it recognizes it as something hazardous or foreign.  In a perfectly normal, functioning immune system, the function that takes place consists of the system’s ability to ward off hazardous “intruders”, such as dangerous infections and bacteria.  This function that occurs within the body enables it to function in a healthy manner, and ultimately serves as the line of defense by which the body is able to fight off sickness.  Various immune diseases with similar characteristics use the name lupus, yet systemic lupus erythematosus is the most common among these different types.

Statistics having to do with this type of lupus show that roughly 1.5 million Americans have reported their respective diagnosis, according to the Lupus Foundation of America, although the statistic is said to be higher. This is thanks to the wide variety of undiagnosed conditions in the United States. Often times, patients may confuse their symptoms with another medical condition, or it can very well be possible that the disease was initially misdiagnosed, as the symptoms can mirror that of other serious medical conditions.

The symptoms that are tied to systemic lupus erythematosus with range from a variety of severe and physical cues.  These will often include severe fatigue, joint pain, joint swelling, headaches, rashes present on the cheeks and nose (known as a “butterfly rash”), hair loss, anemia, blood clotting within the body, as well as one of the more unique symptoms of the disease, which includes the occurrence of the patient’s fingers turning white or blue. 

This is also often paired with a tingling sensation, and is brought about when the patient is cold, a symptom known as Raynaud’s phenomenon.  As alluded to earlier, the symptoms seen in systemic lupus erythematosus are often associated with a plethora of other diseases, often making it difficult to diagnose. Due to this, it is most important for patients with similar symptoms to go to their doctor, so as to receive a legitimate and thorough diagnosis.

Although systemic lupus erythematosus has gradually improved in the ability for its diagnosis, there has yet to be a specific cause of the disease identified. This being said, extensive research has yielded some results that suggest a variety of factors that may lead to the unfortunate disease, but none have ultimately been conclusive. In terms of whether or not the disease can be passed down from one generation to the next (genetics), the disease has been said to not run in families. 

However, some researchers and doctors suggest that patients with systemic lupus erythematosus or other forms of lupus are likely to have family members who have had various types of autoimmune diseases.

The future for patients with lupus

The future for the various types of lupus is dependent on a variety of factors.  For the patients with the condition, as well as their loved ones, it is important to acknowledge all of the various triggers associated with different forms of lupus. These can often include: ultraviolet rays, other specific medical conditions, viruses within the body, physical or mental stress, as well as trauma.  A firm knowledge of these potential triggers will ultimately enable the community associated with systemic lupus erythematosus and sub-acute cutaneous lupus erythematosus to understand the potential for suppressing the symptoms.

Another vital factor for the future of these forms of lupus include the methods by which doctors use in order to diagnose the condition. This can often include physical exams to check for the typical symptoms of lupus, which include rashes due to sun sensitivity, mouth or nose ulcers, arthritis, hair loss or thinning, as well as signs of cardiac or lung involvement, such as murmurs, or irregular heartbeats.  Although there is not at this time one test that can serve as a primary diagnosis for systemic lupus erythematosus, various types will often include a urinalysis, a chest X-ray, and forms of bloods tests.

The findings of previous research efforts may very well be the important catalyst towards slowing the severe symptoms that come with the different forms of lupus.  This research, among other studies, proves that there is a progressive effort towards conquering the harsh symptoms that come with systemic lupus erythematosus and sub-acute cutaneous lupus erythematosus.