What is Lupus?
Lupus is a disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs (autoimmune disease). Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different body systems — including your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs.
So when you feel achy, weak, and run down or notice a red rash on your face or neck? You may be at risk of lupus, a deadly autoimmune disease affecting about 1.5 million people in the U.S. Swollen of the body tissue or organs is one of the serious symptoms of lupus, but unlike rheumatoid arthritis, which affects the bone joints, lupus affects more than joints; it can cause serious pain and swelling of internal organs.
Pain caused by lupus can cause a serious problem on your entire body, from the head to your toe joints and others in between, including the kidneys, lungs, and heart. It’s a chronic disease impacting daily life, and while many cases are still not severe, lupus can be severe and may even cause death if not attended to. Despite the serious impact lupus can have, progress in treatment options has been helping people with the condition leave long and healthy.
Types of Lupus
1. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). This type of lupus is known to affect the whole-body system; that is why it is considered systemic and can cause Inflammation in all organs, including the brain. Seventy percent of people with lupus are diagnosed with SLE, making it the most common form of the disease.
2. Drug-induced lupus erythematosus. Just as the name implies, this is caused by the effect of using a drug for a very long period. There are many drugs that aid lupus development. These drugs include procainamide (used to treat irregular heartbeats), hydralazine (used to treat high blood pressure), isoniazid (used in tuberculosis patients), and others.
3. Neonatal Lupus. This rare condition occurs when a mother’s autoantibodies (proteins made by the immune system that target healthy tissue) are transferred to an unborn baby via the placenta.
These autoantibodies can produce cutaneous lupus lesions and rashes as well as liver and blood problems, all of which generally resolve in the first six months of life. A very serious—but very rare—complication of this condition is a congenital heart block causing a slow heartbeat, which may require treatment with a pacemaker.
4 . Cutaneous Lupus. This form of lupus only affects the skin; it causes rashes and lesions typically on areas that are open to sunlight, such as the face, neck, nose, and typically anywhere around your head region.
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Who Can Get Lupus?
This is a common question asked by a lot of people. It can affect anyone, but some people are more likely to be affected than others. The risk factors are:
- Gender: When it comes to gender, women are ten times more likely than men to develop lupus. Most women are diagnosed with lupus during their childbearing age, which may be from 15 – 45years.
- Ethnicity: Ethnicity also plays an important role in this. Black American women are three times more likely than Caucasian women to develop lupus. Non-Hispanic and Hispanic Asian women are also more likely to develop lupus than their Caucasian counterparts. It may be because of a higher prevalence of certain genes present in this ethnic group.
What Causes Lupus?
Another factor that influences lupus, but doesn’t cause it, is ultraviolet light from the sun or indoor fluorescent lighting. Ultraviolet light causes cell damage, but in people with lupus, the immune system takes longer to clear that cell damage and can also mistakenly launch an attack against healthy cells, causing a lupus flare-up.
Many environmental factors, such as air pollution, exposure to heavy metals, and even certain infections, including the Epstein-Barr virus, may increase SLE risk, but more research is needed. However, exposure to cigarette smoke as well as to the mineral silica (construction workers and those who dig or drill in the earth can have high exposures) are strongly associated with the development of lupus.
Research shows women with lupus tend to have more severe flares when estrogen levels are high, such as right before their periods and during pregnancy. Additional evidence suggests women who are taking exogenous estrogen—estrogen that comes from outside of the body, such as the kind found in birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy—have a higher risk of developing lupus, according to Dr. Choi. “Experts believe that sex hormones play an important role in the immune system, and patients can develop lupus when these sex hormones cause abnormal expression of genes involved in the regulation of immune cells,” she adds.
Diet may also be an environmental factor, with some recent studies linking an increase in diseases such as lupus to the rise and spread of the Western diet rich in processed foods, meats, dairy, and oils. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet may help manage lupus symptoms.
Scientists have identified roughly 100 gene variations that can lead to lupus, but only some people who carry these genes develop the disease. Researchers believe a “trigger”—such as exposure to a medication, stress, or hormones—sets the disease in motion. In rare instances, infants can be born with neonatal lupus; not all mothers of infants with neonatal lupus have lupus themselves, though they have about a 20% risk of developing it later in life.
Symptoms of Lupus
1. Lupus symptoms run the gamut, but some of the most common are:
3. Joint pain
5. Low fever
6. Skin rashes, especially a butterfly-shaped rash that appears around the cheeks and nose
7. Sensitivity to light
8. Hair loss
9. Mouth sores
10. Chest pain when taking deep breaths
Symptoms depend on which organs are affected. Accordind to Dr. choi “ lupus patients who develop inflammation in the lining or muscle of the heart can experience chest pain,” “And chronic inflammation has been shown to have profound effects on the chemicals responsible for messaging in the nervous system, which plays a role in fatigue.”
Risks and Side Effects of Lupus
Some lupus-related complications are due to the disease, while others stem from the medications used to fight it. These complications include:
1. Arthritis. Arthritis stemming from lupus generally affects the small joints of the hands, wrists, and knees. Up to 90% of people with SLE have issues with their musculoskeletal system.
2. Pericarditis. This swelling of the membrane (pericardium) lines the heart and affects about 25% of people with SLE.
3. Lupus nephritis. When lupus causes Inflammation of the kidneys (lupus nephritis), it can cause them to stop working properly, which can lead to high blood pressure, swelling, blood or protein in the urine, and even kidney failure. Lupus nephritis usually develops within five years of initial lupus symptoms and is most common in 20- to 40-year-olds.
4. Anemia. The Inflammation caused by lupus can interfere with red blood cell formation, causing anemia. About 50 – 60% of people with lupus have anemia, and this contributes to fatigue and stress.
5. Cognitive Dysfunction. about eighty percent of people who have had lupus for ten or more years will experience cloudy thinking, or “brain fog.”
6. Pregnancy complications. Pregnant women with lupus are more likely to experience miscarriage, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, blood clots, and preterm delivery, among other complications.
7. Cancer. People with lupus have a higher risk of developing 16 different cancers, including bladder, kidney, and lung cancers, as well as leukemia. Experts think that people with lupus have defects in their immune systems that may predispose them to certain kinds of cancer. They also suspect the use of immunosuppressant drugs to treat the disease may play a role. Also, some medications used to treat lupus, such as Cytoxan chemotherapy, have an increased risk of cancer as a possible side effect.
8. Stroke. People with SLE are two times more likely to have a stroke than those without the disease—often younger than the general population. This is often due to the development of autoimmune antibodies that cause blood clots, called anti-phospholipid antibodies. People with lupus also have higher rates of hypertension, a risk factor for strokes.
9. Heart Attack. While not an autoimmune symptom, women with lupus are 50 times more likely to die of a heart attack than women without lupus.
Treatment Options for Lupus
Treatment of Lupus depends on your symptoms. The doctor may prescribe:
1. Hydroxychloroquine, a drug used to treat malaria (called an anti-malarial drug), is also shown to effectively reduce lupus flares by 50%. It reduces organ damage, pregnancy complications, and inflammation. Although it’s not entirely clear how it works, we know that it reduces flares, organ damage, and pregnancy complications and is the only medication proven to improve survival.
2. BLyS-specific inhibitors, such as rituximab and belimumab, are drugs that inhibit immune cells that release organ-damaging antibodies and block specific proteins that are important in the immune response.
3. Immunosuppressants, including drugs such as azathioprine (Imuran and Azasan), mycophenolate (Cellcept), methotrexate (Trexall and Xatmep), and others, help tamp down an overactive immune system. However, that weakened immune system response means it will be harder for your body to fight infections, big and small.
Can Lupus Be Cured?
There is no known cure for lupus for now, but while there’s no cure for lupus, you can help control the disease from getting severe with these coping strategies:
1. Reducing stress
2. Exercising moderately when you can
3. Taking medications
4. Limiting sun exposure
5. Eating a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet
6. Getting enough sleep
7. Asking others for help when you need it
8. Talking to a therapist if you feel depressed or anxious
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