What is lupus?
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue and organs. Damage and inflammation caused by lupus can affect a variety of systems including joints; kidneys; blood cells; skin; heart; brain and lungs. There are three predominant types of lupus:
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): This is the most common and most severe type of lupus.
- Discoid lupus: This type of lupus predominantly affects the skin, creating a skin rash that does not go away.
- Neonatal lupus: This form affects newborns.
Approximately 5 million people across the world have a form of lupus. It commonly affects women of child-bearing age (approximately ages 15 to 45). Some people are born with a pre-disposition to lupus. In other instance, lupus may be triggered by a variety of environmental factors including stress, trauma, certain drugs or infection. There is currently no cure for lupus. However, treatments and life-style changes can help manage and reduce symptoms. Treatment options for lupus include over-the-counter pain medications, anti-malarial drugs, corticosteroids and immunosuppressants.
Lupus can be difficult to diagnose due to the fact that the symptoms and effects can mimic a variety of other illnesses and disorders. Diagnosis is often made based on observation, clinical symptoms, history and certain blood tests such as:
- Complete blood count (CBC): This measures the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and hemoglobin in the blood. This test can tell you if you have anemia, which is a common symptom of lupus. Low counts of platelets and white blood cells can also indicate lupus.
- Antinuclear antibody test (ANA): A positive ANA test can indicate a stimulated immune system. This is not a test solely for lupus. Many people who have a positive ANA do not have lupus. It is also important to remember that positive ANAs in people with lupus only occur during a flare. Many patients with lupus receive negative ANA results. If your ANA test comes back positive, your doctor may refer you for more specific antibody testing.
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate: This test shows the rate that red blood cells settle at the bottom of a test tube within an hour. A faster rate may indicate a systemic disease, such as lupus. Just as with the ANA, this test is used to test for a variety of inflammatory conditions and does not automatically include or exclude a lupus diagnosis.
Symptoms of lupus
Symptoms of lupus can be wide-spread and they depend on what system(s) in the body the disease is affecting. General symptoms of lupus can include:
- Severe fatigue
- Chronic and recurrent low-grade fevers
- Malar, or butterfly, rash (a red, flushing-like rash that appears on the cheeks and bridge of the nose)
- Photosensitivity (skin reactions, sores and rashes when exposed to sunlight)
- Raynaud’s phenomenon (fingers and toes turning white or blue when exposed to cold temperatures)
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Pain and swelling in the joints
- Dry eyes
- Headaches and migraines
- Hair loss
- Cognitive issues such as brain fog and difficulty concentrating