Lupus, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus, is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the body's own tissues and organs, causing inflammation and damage to different parts of the body. Lupus may damage various parts of the body including the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels and brain. Lupus is a serious disease that affects women more than men and is more common in women of African-American, Hispanic or Asian descent. There is currently no cure for lupus, however there are treatments available that help to relieve the symptoms.
Cause of Lupus
The exact cause of lupus is unknown, however it is believed to be caused by a combination of genetics and the environment. Research has indicated that some people may be born with an inherited disposition for lupus that may may be triggered by environmental factors such as sunlight or certain medications. Hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, may also be a factor in the cause of lupus, as women are more likely to develop lupus than men.
Symptoms of Lupus
The symptoms of lupus may vary with each individual, however, the most common symptom of lupus is a butterfly shaped rash that appears on the face. Symptoms of lupus can come and go and be mild or severe, and may commonly include:
- Muscle pain
- Pain and swelling in the joints
- Chest pain
- Sensitivity to the sun
- Skin lesions
- Swollen glands
- Hair loss
- Purple or blue fingers and toes
Sporadic symptoms, known as flares, may be triggered or made worse by certain environmental factors such as sunlight, stress, infection, injury, or fatigue. In severe cases, symptoms of lupus may include confusion, dizziness, memory loss or seizures. Depression may also be a symptom of living with lupus.
Diagnosis of Lupus
Lupus may be difficult to diagnose, as symptoms may come and go and may mimic the symptoms of other conditions. To diagnose lupus and rule out any other medical conditions, symptoms are reviewed and a full physical examination is performed. Additional diagnostic tests may include:
- Blood test
- Skin biopsy
- Kidney and liver function tests
- Kidney biopsy
- Antinuclear antibody test
If it is suspected that lupus may be affecting the lungs or heart, imaging tests such as a chest X-ray or echocardiogram may also be performed.
Treatment of Lupus
Treatment for lupus may vary depending on the individual's symptoms. Medication is often used to prevent or reduce symptom flares, reduce swelling and pain, prevent infection and inflammation and suppress the immune system. Medications may include:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Immune suppressants
- Antimalarial drugs
Individuals with lupus can help to manage their condition by recognizing factors that may trigger a flare-up of symptoms. Exercising, avoiding stress, getting enough rest, and eating a healthy diet may also help to minimize the flares of lupus. Attending support groups, along with a strong support system of family and friends, can also be beneficial to those living with lupus.