Everything You Need To Know About Lupus


Lupus, or systemic Lupus erythematosus (SLE), is an autoimmune disease affecting different body parts, including the skin, joints, kidneys, lungs, heart, and brain. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues and organs, causing inflammation and damage. The body's immune system works as a defense system that fights against invaders such as germs, viruses, and bacteria. In the case of Lupus, the immune system cannot differentiate between the invaders and healthy tissue of the body. It creates antibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue, causing inflammation in various body parts. Over time, this inflammation damages other parts of the body. Lupus is a chronic condition with no cure, but treatments such as medication, lifestyle changes, and self-care can help manage symptoms and prevent complications.

Types of Lupus

  • Neonatal Lupus: This is a rare condition affecting infants of mothers with Lupus. Antibodies of mothers affect the fetus inside the womb. As a result, the baby may develop a skin rash and other issues such as low blood cell count, liver issues, etc. In most cases, the symptoms disappear completely after six months. However, some newborns are at greater risk for developing a sporadic yet severe heart defect.
  • Systemic Lupus erythematosus (SLE): This condition accounts for about 70% of all cases of Lupus (ranging from mild to severe). It does not have a cure but can be managed under professional care. The condition may affect significant organs or tissues in the body, such as the kidneys, heart, brain, or lungs. It can also result in serious complications such as inflammation of the kidney, nervous system, and brain and hardening of the arteries resulting in a heart attack.
  • Cutaneous Lupus: Around 10% of all Lupus cases are known to be cutaneous. It results in malar and discoid rashes. Sometimes the site of the rash is raised, with redness and scaly areas. Sometimes, the condition may cause a rash around or over the cheeks and across the bridge of the nose. This is also referred to as the "butterfly rash." Other areas where rashes may appear include the scalp, neck, face, inside the mouth, and/or vagina. Cutaneous Lupus may also cause hair loss and changes in skin color.
  • Drug-Induced Lupus: The condition is known to account for 10% of all Lupus cases. Drug-induced Lupus is a result of high doses of certain medications. It causes symptoms similar to SLE but rarely affects the body's major organs. In most cases, the symptoms disappear within six months of stopping the medicine that caused the symptoms in the first place.

Symptoms of Lupus

Lupus symptoms are unique and may vary from one person to another. Lupus symptoms may be temporary or permanent in some individuals.

Most people with Lupus show mild symptoms. These flares may go away on their own or even worsen with time.

Lupus symptoms can vary widely depending on which organs and systems in the body are affected.

Some of the most common symptoms of Lupus include:

  • Fatigue: Feeling exhausted even after getting enough sleep.
  • Joint pain and stiffness: Pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints, especially in the morning or after prolonged periods of inactivity.
  • Skin rashes: A butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks and nose or other types of rashes on the skin.
  • Photosensitivity: Increased sensitivity to sunlight, which can cause rashes or flares.
  • Fever: A low-grade fever that does not go away.
  • Raynaud's phenomenon: Fingers and toes turn white or blue in response to cold or stress.
  • Chest pain: Pain in the chest that may worsen with deep breathing.
  • Shortness of breath: Difficulty breathing.
  • Headaches: Frequent headaches, including migraines.
  • Cognitive problems: Difficulty concentrating, memory problems, or confusion.

Risk Factors of Lupus

Factors known to increase one's risk of Lupus include the following listed below:

  • Gender: Women are more likely to develop Lupus than men.
  • Age: Lupus can develop at any age, but it is more commonly diagnosed in people between the ages of 15 and 45.
  • Ethnicity: Lupus is more common in people of African, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American descent.
  • Hormonal factors: Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, can trigger or exacerbate Lupus symptoms.

Complications Associated with Lupus

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can affect multiple organ systems, and if left untreated, it can lead to a range of complications.

Some of the most common complications and associated risks of having Lupus include:

  • Kidney damage: Lupus can cause kidney inflammation, leading to impaired kidney function, high blood pressure, and even kidney failure.
  • Cardiovascular disease: Increased risk of developing heart disease, including coronary artery disease and stroke.
  • Lung complications: Lupus can cause lung inflammation, resulting in chest pain, difficulty breathing, and a condition called pleurisy, which is the inflammation of the lining surrounding the lungs.
  • Central nervous system complications: Lupus can cause inflammation in the spinal cord and the brain, leading to various neurological symptoms, including seizures, headaches, and memory loss.
  • Blood clots: People with Lupus are at an increased risk of developing blood clots, which can be fatal if they travel to the lungs or brain.
  • Infections: Lupus can weaken the immune system, making people more susceptible to bacterial, viral, and fungal infections.
  • Pregnancy complications: Women with Lupus may be at an increased risk of pregnancy complications, including preterm labor, preeclampsia, and miscarriage.

It is worth understanding that with proper treatment and management, many people with Lupus can lead everyday lives and avoid or manage these complications. However, working closely with a healthcare provider to manage symptoms and reduce the risk of complications is essential.

Prevention of Lupus

Presently, there is little evidence on ways to prevent Lupus. However, avoiding the factors that trigger Lupus symptoms is believed to help.

Here are some tips you can follow to prevent Lupus:

  • Avoid Sun: Restrict your exposure to direct sunlight, especially if it causes a rash. Additionally, you should wear sunscreen with an SPF of 70 or higher.
  • Avoid Medications: Doctors advise avoiding medications that may increase your sensitivity to the sun. Some of these include antibiotics and diuretics.
  • Stress Management: Learning and developing stress management techniques can help. Try meditating, practicing yoga, breathing techniques, and getting massages.
  • Maintain Distance: It is recommended to avoid people with colds and other infections.
  • Sleep Tight: Get the right amount of uninterrupted sleep. It is advised to set a routine for sleep every night and follow it. Around 7-9 hours of sleep is crucial to keep the body healthy and avoid triggers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Heredity plays a role in developing this condition. Research revealed that about 10% of lupus patients have a first-degree relative with lupus (daughter, sister, son, mother). Some patients also have second-degree relatives, such as an aunt, a first cousin, or an uncle.

No, this condition is not contagious. Hence, it is not transferrable from one person to another.

No. Proper treatment is necessary for lupus. It is a chronic or long-lasting disease affecting an individual's immune system. Presently, there is no cure for lupus. However, the condition and symptoms can be managed with effective treatments helping patients to live active lives.

Exercise can help maintain one's overall health. Since staying physical activity has many benefits, it can help manage lupus. Regular exercise will strengthen parts of the body and reduce inflammation. It will also minimize other symptoms, such as fatigue.

Chemotherapy may be effective in treating lupus, depending on the patient. Some cases of lupus react well with cyclophosphamide, a chemotherapy treatment for cancer.

Most individuals diagnosed with lupus can lead a normal life span with timely diagnosis and treatment. According to studies, around 10-15% of individuals die due to complications resulting from lupus, such as heart attacks, other cardiovascular diseases, infections of the kidney, and kidney failure.

Yes. Although pregnancy in lupus patients is a high risk, most women carry their babies safely with treatment. It is important to remember that lupus is a cause of higher rates of miscarriages and premature births.

No. Lupus can be easily managed with proper treatment and following the guidance of an experienced medical professional.

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