Healthy Living

Lupus: The Top 10 Questions

  • Nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys) is one of the complications of lupus. Nephritis causes the kidneys to become inflamed and have a difficult time filtering the wastes and toxins in the body. 
  • One of the early signs of lupus is a recurrent, low-grade fever for no apparent cause. Low-grade fever could indicate inflammation, infection, or an imminent flare up.
  • The exact cause of lupus is unknown. However, experts have linked lupus to genetic predisposition and external factors, including exposure to ultraviolet light, extreme stress, smoking, and infections. Lupus is also triggered by certain medications.

1 Does lupus go away?

Lupus is a chronic condition making it unlikely to go away entirely. It is a disease that is characterized by the relapse and remission of symptoms. This is why when the symptoms of lupus have not been evident for some time, some patients believe that they have been gotten completely well. Unfortunately, they are probably not and will likely suffer relapses in the future. 

Lupus is an unpredictable condition. Thus, patients should know about the factors that trigger flare-ups to be able to prevent and even control the symptoms. It is vital for patients to stick to their treatment and prevention plan.

On the good side, people with lupus are still able to live normal lives, since there are a number of treatments that have been effective in controlling the symptoms of lupus as well as preventing its complications.

When lupus is drug-induced, there is a possibility of the lupus disappearing when one stops taking the drug that has induced the condition, although the chances of this are not very high.

2 How does lupus affect the kidneys?

When uncontrolled or severe, lupus attacks the kidneys. When this happens, harmful toxins begin to build up in the blood, which could make a person very sick.

Nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys) is one of the complications of lupus. Nephritis causes the kidneys to become inflamed and have a difficult time filtering the wastes and toxins in the body. Symptoms of nephritis include blood in urine, dark-colored urine, lower back pain, frequent urination at night, high blood pressure, and swelling of the lower extremities. When nephritis is left untreated, it can progress to end-stage renal disease (ESRD).

Some people who have lupus and have developed kidney complications undergo kidney dialysis to help filter the toxins, which the kidneys are unable to do. In some cases, a kidney transplant is done. However, many people with lupus are unaware when their kidneys are no longer functioning well. Thus, it is important to monitor the condition of the kidneys of lupus sufferers through blood and urine tests.

3 What are the signs and symptoms of lupus?

Below are the common signs and symptoms of lupus:

Lupus symptoms

  • Rash – This, particularly the butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks, is the most visible sign of lupus. The rash may develop rapidly or could emerge after exposure to sunlight. Fifty percent of lupus cases exhibit the butterfly rash.
  • Dry eyes and dry mouth – These symptoms are present when people with lupus develop Sjogren’s syndrome, which, like lupus, is an autoimmune disease. Some women may also experience vaginal dryness.
  • Unexplained fever – One of the early signs of lupus is a recurrent, low-grade fever for no apparent cause. Low-grade fever could indicate inflammation, infection, or an imminent flare up. It is important to see your doctor if you experience unexplained fever.
  • Joint Pain and Swelling – This is due to inflammation of the joints.
  • Hair Loss - Thinning hair is observed in people with lupus due to the inflammation of the scalp and skin. Hair loss is seen in the eyebrows, eyelashes, scalp, and beard.
  • Light sensitivity
  • Skin discoloration
  • Muscle or chest pain
  • Osteoporosis
  • Depression

People with lupus do not necessarily have all the symptoms mentioned.

4 Is lupus a form of cancer?

Lupus is not a type of cancer. It is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease attacking the healthy cells, tissue, and organs of the body. This autoimmune disease damages the skin, brain, joints, lungs, heart, kidneys, and blood vessels.

The immune system is responsible for producing antibodies, which protect the body by fighting antigens such as bacteria and viruses. However, lupus makes the immune system unable to distinguish between normal cells and bad cells. As a result, antibodies end up destroying both antigens and healthy cells.

5 Is lupus hereditary?

Lupus has not been proved to be hereditary, as no particular gene or group of genes has been associated with the condition. However, lupus seems to appear more frequently in some families. Also, when one of two identical twins has the condition, the other twin has an increased risk of developing the same condition. Some ethnic groups, e.g. Asians, Africans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Native Hawaiians, have a higher risk of lupus. Because of this, some studies say that genes are somehow involved in the occurrence of lupus. Nevertheless, ninety percent of patients with lupus do not have any family member who also have the disease.

6 Can you die from lupus?

Not exactly. A person who has lupus can live a normal life if they get proper treatment, live a healthy lifestyle, and follow the doctor’s instructions. However, if lupus is left untreated, various complications can arise. 

7 What causes lupus?

The exact cause of lupus is unknown. However, experts have linked lupus to genetic predisposition and external factors, including exposure to ultraviolet light, extreme stress, smoking, and infections. Lupus is also triggered by certain medications such as anti-seizure medications, antibiotics, and blood pressure medications. Symptoms of drug-induced lupus can be managed by not taking the said medications.

8 Is lupus contagious?

No. Lupus is not contagious nor can it be transmitted through sexual activities.

9 Is lupus curable?

Lupus is not curable, but there are treatments that can help lessen and control its symptoms. Treatments for lupus usually include immunosuppressive drugs, corticosteroids, and lifestyle changes.

Steroids 

The use of steroids for the treatment of lupus is highly recommended. Steroids are not just vital but also life-saving. These drugs have anti-inflammatory properties. They can also suppress the disease itself. The dosage of steroids depends on the presentation of symptoms and it will be reduced gradually when lupus is already under control.

Joint pains are eased and rashes are lessened. Pericarditis and pleurisy are also regressed. Even general malaise and fever can vanish overnight. However, the use of steroids in the long run has corresponding side effects. These are muscle weakness, osteoporosis, and weight gain.

Immunosuppressants

In severe cases of lupus, immunosuppressants are used. Azathioprine, cyclophosphamide, and methotrexate are commonly used for lupus. Azathioprine is used for mild to moderate kidney disease while cyclophosphamide is a drug commonly used for kidney disease.
Various medications such as anticoagulants, blood pressure drugs, anti-epileptics, antidepressants, and diuretics are also used in the treatment of lupus.

10 What are lupus anticoagulants?

Lupus anticoagulants are antibodies against substances in the lining of cells. These substances, called phospholipids, prevent the formation of blood clots in a test tube. As an immunoglobulin, lupus anticoagulants bind to phospholipids as well as proteins that are linked with the cell membrane. Individuals who have these antibodies to phospholipids could have an excessively high risk of blood clot formation. Although the name is anticoagulant, they do not pose any increased risk of bleeding. 

Lupus anticoagulants are often found in people with autoimmune diseases, particularly SLE or systemic lupus erythematosus. Lupus anticoagulants may also occur in people with infections, anti-inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, and certain types of tumors. In addition, taking medicines such as phenytoin, quinine, amoxicillin, phenothiazines, or hydralazine can increase the likelihood of one's having lupus anticoagulants. 

The exact cause of lupus anticoagulants is not clear, but they are commonly found in elderly people who are asymptomatic.

Some people with lupus anticoagulants may not experience any symptoms, while others may experience symptoms such as blood clots in the lungs or legs, or have recurrent miscarriages, heart attacks, or strokes.

Lupus anticoagulants are also referred to as lupus antibodies or lupus inhibitors.

11 What is discoid lupus?

Discoid lupus or discoid lupus erythematosus is a chronic photosensitive eruption of the skin which can be localized or widespread. Discoid lupus is only confined to the skin and does not produce any systemic symptoms. This condition can lead to permanent scarring if adequate treatment is not given.

Discoid lupus commonly affects more women than men. People between the ages of 20 and 40 years old are more commonly affected by this illness as are smokers. Discoid lupus can also be seen in some patients with systemic lupus erythematosus.

Symptoms of discoid lupus are:

  • Red and scaly patches that cause pigmentation, white scars, and atrophy
  • Scaling and ulcers on the lips as well as the in the mouth
  • Pain with lesions
  • Mild pruritus
  • May cause permanent scarring alopecia
  • Patches are usually found on parts of the body which are exposed to sunlight such as the nose, cheeks, ears, neck, upper back, and back of the hands
  • Lesions may be hypertrophic, which means they will cause wart-like lesions particularly on the extensor part of the arms

Treatment of discoid lupus includes protection from the sun, steroids (topical or intralesional), and antimalarial medications. Although these are mainstay treatments, people may still experience pain in lesions and atrophy may become permanent. If treatment is not given during the early phase of discoid lupus, it will heal with hair loss, scarring, and pigmentary changes.

12 Who are some celebrities who have lupus?

Lupus is a rare condition that can affect different organs in the body including the skin, joints, and kidneys. It can affect people from all walks of life. The symptoms of lupus are different from person to person but lupus usually causes joint pain, hair loss, mouth sores, scarring, and swelling. Thus, celebrities who are diagnosed with lupus may have a particularly hard time dealing with their condition, given that the public's eyes are always on them.

Among the celebrities diagnosed with lupus are Seal, Michael Jackson (not really proven), Flannery O’Connor, Toni Braxton, Ray Walston, J. Dilla, Teddi King, Lady Gaga (not active but borderline), Nick Cannon, Cori Braudus, Paula Abdul, Trick Daddy, Charles Kurait, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Selena Gomez.

13 What are the more salient symptoms of lupus in women?

Since women are more commonly affected by lupus than men are, women must be able to identify the symptoms of this condition to enable them to seek medical help as soon as they think they might have lupus. Women may experience one or more of these symptoms: joint pain and swelling, the butterfly rash, bloody urine, water retention, unexplained fever, chest pain, hair loss, fatigue, mouth sores, memory loss, seizures, and mental health problems.