Lupus is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease where the immune system targets healthy organs and tissues of the body mistakenly. All organs of the body can be affected including the brain, skin and even blood vessels. The signs and symptoms of lupus often last longer than six weeks when a patient has a flare and sometimes may last several years. Although anyone can get lupus woman of African, Asian and Latin descent are most likely to have the disease, with Latina and black women generally having the most severe forms of the disease. There are several forms of lupus that patients can experience at once or at different points in their lives. Currently in the United States there are one and a half million people living with diagnosed lupus. There are four forms of lupus that fall under the umbrella term of lupus, however when speaking of the disease, the one most often being referenced is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
This form of lupus has many wide ranging symptoms that can change over time. Some of the most common include severe and chronic fatigue, anemia, hair loss and thinning, joint pain and swelling, headaches, butterfly rashes and Raynaud's Phenomenon. The symptoms can vary based on the part of the body that’s being affected at the time. Though the exact cause of SLE isn’t known, there are have been some factors linked to the disease.
Genetics doesn’t seem to play a large role in who gets SLE, although women mostly get the disease they will tend to have family members both male and female with other autoimmune disorders. There also seems to be environmental factors that can trigger parts of the disorder in particular exposure to UVA rays. Because most diagnosed cases of lupus affect women and there has been evidence that symptoms worsen during pregnancy and the menstrual cycle and can intensify the symptoms of the cycle, there has been some speculation that the disease may be linked to estrogen, however current research has not born that hypothesis out.
The diagnostic process of testing for lupus is not a very straightforward one. Many tests may be done and different specialists may be visited before an affirmative diagnosis is made. While there is no true diagnostic test, physicians may run blood count, urinalyses, antibody tests as well as chest x-rays. They most likely will also test for malar or butterfly rashes to confirm sun sensitivity, mucus membrane ulcers, check for heart or lung issues such as murmurs, irregular heartbeats and rubs, arthritis, hair thinning and loss.
Although no cure exists there are various treatments that can help to ease the symptoms or make them more manageable depending on the part of the body that’s being affected. Creams for rashes and anti-inflammatory medications for easing joint pain and stiffness are one way of easing joint inflammation along with antimalarial drugs which can also treat skin related issues. Corticosteroids and immune system agents may also be used in the most severe cases.
Over time complications related to SLC can cause other disorders and disease in the body. Different types of inflammations are common such as pericarditis an inflammation of the heart, vasculitis or inflammation of the blood vessels that can lead to development of blood clots and pleuritis, inflammation of the lungs. Decrease kidney functions that can eventually lead to kidney inflammation and eventually renal failure. The patient can also suffer memory loss and behavioral changes, along with increased risk of stroke and heart attack.
Not Listening to the Body
People with lupus often have many symptoms mimic common everyday illnesses, but with lupus patients carry a much higher risk of permanent damage. Some of the most common side effects of lupus are:
A constant low grade fever that doesn’t go over one hundred and one degrees is usually not only a sign that someone may have lupus, but that the body perceives an infection. When fevers occur it’s usually because the immune system has determined that an infection is present that it needs to fight, a raised temperature is an indication of a raised white cell count. Because the white blood cells are the soldiers of the immune system that fight invaders and lupus is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack healthy organs mistakenly, a consistent fever is often a sign of the presence of lupus.
At some point or another everyone has periods where they don’t sleep well and experience days that they can’t seem to stay awake, that’s normal. For someone that may have lupus, there will be overwhelming tiredness even after a full restful night's sleep. They may find themselves unable to keep from nodding off at work or paying attention. Some may take daytime naps to alleviate this feeling of constant fatigue and that may work, but most often it does not and may cause insomnia when it does creating a cyclical problem.
Unexplained Rashes or Lesions
A skin rash coupled with a low grade fever when no other symptoms and no obvious cause is present can be a sign of lupus. A butterfly shaped rash across the nose that isn’t a result of sunburn is the most obvious type of lupus rash and will worsen with exposure to sunlight. Raised non-itchy lesions on other parts of the body may also be present.
If any of these symptoms present, the patient should take them seriously and consult with their physician as it may be symptomatic of a larger health issue or an acute flare of the disease.
Stopping Medications When Feeling Better
Like many patients that are on maintenance medications, when they feel better the urge to forget that the medication is in fact responsible for the feelings of well being and go off their medications. This can be a life threatening mistake as stopping any medication too suddenly can lead to extreme flares of a disease and in the case of lupus patients can cause acute pulmonary symptoms.
Lupus can cause the lungs to become inflamed and contribute to pleuritis a condition where the lungs swell, which can sometimes extend into the surrounding blood vessels and those of the lungs as well causing intense chest pains and shortness of breath. The diaphragm can also be affected as well and over time the muscles of the diaphragm may become weakened while the lung size will shrink.
In a addition to pleuritis, kidney issues such as nephritis which affects the kidneys in much the same way it does the lungs by causing inflammation and wreaking havoc on the renal system. The inflammation will cause the kidney system considerable difficulty in filtering waste and toxins from the blood. Early signs of nephritis include swollen lower joints, darkened and increased urine levels, blood in the urine and pain at the kidney site. Because nephritis is one of the more serious symptoms of lupus and can lead to renal failure, if someone is having symptoms they should consult a physician immediately.
Living With Lupus
Lupus is by all accounts a manageable disease, it does however need constant care and attention. Though patients may feel well with barely a flare in the disease for long periods, they should never get comfortable enough to forget that this is indeed a life threatening disease and should strive not to make mistakes that can cost them dearly.