Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE or lupus)


What is it?

Systemic lupus erythematosus (also known as simply ‘lupus’) is a systemic autoimmune disorder. In these kinds of disorders, the body’s immune system attacks normal healthy tissues, causing  inflammation and possibly damage to the tissues and organs. Lupus can affect any part of the body, including joints, skin, blood cells, nervous system, and internal organs (such as the brain, heart, liver, kidneys, or lungs). People who suffer from lupus experience cycles of flares and remission, where they have periods of feeling ill and periods of feeling well. The disease occurs eight times more often in women than in men, and onset is most frequent between the ages of 15 and 35. It specifically occurs more frequently in African American women, and in women of Asian, Hispanic, and Native American descent. There is also a very small risk that a child or a sibling of a lupus patient may also develop the disease.

Causes

The cause of lupus is currently unknown, though the disease may be attributed to a combination of genetic, immune, environmental and, possibly, hormonal factors. Although no specific gene that causes lupus has been identified, several have been proposed to determine the propensity of developing the disease. Studies also suggest that several genes may determine which organs and tissues are affected in a patient with lupus, as well as how severe their disease will be. In addition to genetics, factors such as stress, sunlight, some drugs and viruses, and other infectious agents may be involved in the development of the disease.

Symptoms

Lupus symptoms vary significantly from patient to patient and can range from mild to serious. People with lupus may experience new symptoms over time or different symptoms during different flares.

Furthermore, lupus often mimics the symptoms of other diseases, and the frequency at which these symptoms present themselves may be quite unpredictable. A distinguishing symptom of lupus is the butterfly-shaped facial rash that spreads across both cheeks and bridge of the nose. However, the rash is not present in all cases of lupus. Other symptoms of lupus may include, but are not limited to:

  • Fatigue
  • Low-grade fever
  • Swollen, stiff, and painful joints (arthritis)
  • Muscle pain
  • Photosensitivity (sensitivity to sunlight, which may worsen rashes)
  • Seizures
  • Chest pain
  • Hair loss
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Depression
  • Memory loss and confusion
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon (fingers or toes turning white in cold temperatures due to poor circulation).

Diagnosis and treatment

Due to its varied symptoms, lupus may be difficult to accurately diagnose and in some cases can take months or years. Diagnosis requires a careful assessment of medical history, close examination of symptoms, blood count testing, and blood and urine tests to determine presence of antibodies, particularly the antinuclear antibody (ANA). However, these tests are complicated by the fact that other infections and autoimmune diseases also produce ANA. In fact, ANA is even occasionally detected in healthy people. Furthermore, some people can have more than one autoimmune disease, making diagnosis even more complex.

At present, although there is no known cure for lupus, it can be treated and managed so that people can lead active and high quality lifestyles. Lupus patients are closely monitored to track the progress of the disease and, because of its complexity, several different health care specialists may be involved at different times to develop individualized treatment plans. The main goals of treatment are to decrease inflammation and minimize damage to organs. Common drugs used by lupus patients include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, anti-malarials, corticosteroids, and immunosuppressants. It is always important for all people with lupus to maintain good communication with their doctors and have regular check-ups. Patients come to understand what causes their flares and can take steps to prevent or lessen them so that they can experience better health overall.

Sources:

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000435.htm

http://www.medicinenet.com/systemic_lupus/article.htm

http://www.healthline.com/health/systemic-lupus-erythematosus#Overview1

http://www.webmd.com/lupus/systemic-lupus-erythematosus

 

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