Lupus, the most common type of which is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is a systemic autoimmune disorder that affects your skin, joints, heart, kidneys, lungs, brain, and blood cells.
One of the most common and typical signs of lupus is a rash on the face that resembles the unfolding of a butterfly’s wings on your cheeks. Your doctor might face difficulty in diagnosing the signs and symptoms of lupus due to its similarity with other illnesses. While there is no cure for Lupus, the treatment plan will most likely include the methods to relieve and control the lupus symptoms.
What is Lupus?
The immune system of the body is responsible for protecting and defending your body against any infection or disease. When this immune system starts to attack your body cells, tissues, and organs, it is defined as an autoimmune disorder.
Lupus is one of such autoimmune disorders , where the body’s own immune system attacks various organs . It is a systemic autoimmune disorder.
What are the symptoms of Lupus?
The signs and symptoms of lupus vary from one person to another. They are not entirely alike in two individuals. The symptoms may develop instantly or gradually with time; they can be mild or severe, and temporary or permanent.
Most people with this autoimmune disorder develop episodes of lupus flares. Lupus flares are characterized by worsening (increase in the disease activity) of the symptoms and eventually disappear for a while.
The signs and symptoms due to lupus depends upon the severity of body damage. The widely seen signs and symptoms are as follows:
- Fatigue accompanied by fever
- Pains, swelling, and stiffness in joints
- Butterfly-shaped rash – A rash on the face that entirely resembles the unfolding of a butterfly’s wings on your cheeks.
- Worsening of skin lesions due to sunlight (photosensitivity)
- Raynaud’s phenomenon – Appearance of whitish or bluish fingers and toes due to exposure to cold and stress.
- Chest pain with breathlessness
- Dry eyes
- Confusion and memory loss
When to see a doctor?
You should see a doctor if you have a rash with no known reason, continuous fever, and ongoing fatigue with body aches.
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What are the causes of Lupus?
Lupus is an autoimmune disease. It attacks the immune system and makes it incapable of fighting and defending infections. It is believed that lupus is a result of genetics and the environment . Sunlight, infections, and medications act as potential agents to trigger lupus in those who are genetically prone. They are:
- Sunlight – If your skin is exposed to the sun for longer periods, it can result in lupus skin lesions. It can also activate some internal responses if you are vulnerable or prone to develop lupus.
- Infections – Some infections can trigger lupus in you.
- Medications – If you are susceptible to lupus , some types of blood pressure medicines, antibiotics, and anti-seizure medicines can trigger a flare .
What are the risk factors for Lupus?
The three major factors that can increase your risk of acquiring lupus are as follows:
- Women are more likely to get affected by lupus than men.
- Anyone can develop lupus at any age but doctors have diagnosed most of the cases between 15 years and 45 years of age.
- Asian-Americans, Hispanics, and African-Americans are more likely to get diagnosed with lupus.
What are the complications of Lupus?
Inflammation due to lupus can lead to various complications in various areas of the body. The major complications are as follows:
- Heart – Inflammation due to lupus in heart muscles, arteries, and heart membranes can increase your risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular diseases.
- Blood and blood vessels – Lupus can lead to anemia, bleeding disorders, or blood-clotting diseases. Vasculitis [inflamed blood vessels] can also occur due to lupus.
- Kidneys – Lupus can affect your kidneys resulting in kidney damage and failure eventually.
- Lungs – Lupus can cause inflammation of your chest cavity, also called pleurisy. You might face painful breathing. Other possibilities are pneumonia and lung bleeding.
- Brain and central nervous system – Lupus may cause headaches, confusion, memory loss, dizziness, vision issues, behavioral problems, and strokes. You might face difficulty in thought, expression and remembering things.
- You might become susceptible to various other infections due to a weakened immune system. Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that destroys the body’s immune system. The body can no longer protect itself from infection-causing agents.
- Lupus can increase a small amount of risk towards the development of cancer.
- Lupus can lead to the death of bone tissues, also known as avascular necrosis. Here, the blood supply to the bone declines gradually causing bone collapse.
- Lupus can result in pregnancy complications like a miscarriage.
What is the treatment plan for patients with Lupus?
Your doctor will advise you of a treatment plan that will suit the severity of your lupus symptoms. No two individuals will have entirely the same signs and symptoms of lupus. Your doctor will discuss the risk factors (if any) associated with the treatment .The most commonly used medications to relieve the signs and symptoms of lupus are as follows:
- NSAIDs – Over-the-counter Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen sodium are used to relieve the pain, swelling, and fever due to lupus. Bleeding from the stomach, kidney damage, and risk of heart damage are some side effects of NSAIDs.
- Corticosteroids – These medications are used to counter any inflammation associated with lupus. Drugs like prednisone can be used in such cases. Steroids like methylprednisolone may be commonly used if there is any damage in the kidney or brain due to lupus. Some side effects of these steroids include easy bruising, osteoporosis, weight gain, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
- Antimalarial drugs that are used to treat malaria, like hydroxychloroquine, can help in reducing the risk of flares due to lupus. Stomach upset and in some rare cases, retinal damage are the side effects of consuming these drugs. Your doctor will recommend that you take regular eye examinations while you are on these medicines.
- Immunosuppressants – Azathioprine, mycophenolate mofetil, and methotrexate are some common drugs that are useful in suppressing the immune system. This can help in severe cases of lupus. Some possible side effects of taking these drugs are liver damage, increased susceptibility to infection, decrease in fertility, and an increase in the risk of developing cancer.
- Rituximab might prove to be beneficial in improving the conditions of resistant lupus. Some potential side effects can include allergic reactions to the IV infusion and infections.
How can you prevent Lupus?
It is unlikely lupus can be prevented , but it is possible to avoid the factors that trigger your lupus signs and symptoms. You must follow these preventive measures to take care of your body if you have lupus.
- Make sure you see your physician or doctor for follow-ups. Regular check-ups will update you and your doctor with your condition and help the doctor identify progress .
- Exposure to the sun can trigger your lupus flares. Make sure you cover your body with protective articles of clothing like hats, full-sleeved shirts, etc…Using a sunscreen having SPF 55 (sun protection factor 55) is a must.
- Exercise regularly to keep your bones strong and muscles active. This can reduce your risk of heart damage and enhance well-being.
- A big no to smoking to prevent worsening of the effects of lupus.
- Consume a healthy diet directed towards fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Your doctor will advise you over the consumption of vitamin D tablets and calcium supplements. Do not take it if not advised.
Lupus is a very common condition. The immune system of the body attacks its ‘own’ cells and makes it incapable of defending any infection or disease. It primarily affects the joints, heart, brain, kidneys, and lungs. Symptoms can depend upon the severity of the disease, which can worsen periodically.
There is no proven cure for lupus, but various treatment plans are advised to relieve the signs and symptoms. It is important to consult with a doctor for treating the same. With proper disease management and lifestyle modifications, you can control your symptoms and minimize lupus flares.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Is there any nutrition plan that I should be following if I have lupus?
Your doctor will advise you to follow a healthy and balanced diet which includes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like tuna or salmon, calcium-rich food products, whole-grain carbohydrates, and fruits and vegetables. You should avoid alcohol, inflammatory food products, and items high in saturated fats and salt.
- What are the safe-to-do exercises for lupus?
Low impact exercises will provide benefits to your muscular strength and also ease any stiffness. Some safe exercises for lupus include stretching exercises to reduce any stiffness. This will improve your flexibility and blood circulation. Strengthening exercises will keep your joints strong. Aerobics and cardio will enhance the functioning of your heart and lungs. They include dancing, walking, or water exercises. Yoga, pilates, and meditation will improve your posture, coordination, and spiritual well-being.
- Why do I feel restless even after sleeping? How can I get a night of better sleep during lupus?
People suffering from lupus have difficulty in waking up fresh after sleep. It can cause increased inflammation in the body. Avoiding using blue light devices like computers, smartphones, or TV, etc..half an hour before going to bed. Keep your room lighting dark and a slightly cool temperature. Ensure that you have comfortable mattresses and pillows. Exercise daily to create a consistent sleep-wake rhythm.
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