The Lowdown on Lupus and its Treatment
Lupus disease is a chronic inflammatory condition that occurs when the immune system of a person attacks his/her own tissues. The inflammation that this disease causes can affect various parts of the body and its systems, such as the blood cells, skin, joints, kidneys, lungs, heart and brain.
This condition is difficult to diagnose also because the symptoms can be very erratic. Here are some facts about lupus:
- Different individuals suffer from different lupus symptoms which might develop very slowly or come on very suddenly
- Some patients suffer from mild symptoms while in others, they might be very severe
- In some they could be temporary or permanent
- Most individuals who have lupus suffer from a mild condition that is characterized by the episodes that are called flares. The symptoms might suddenly flare-up and worsen and then improve/ disappear altogether for a while
- Another fact is that this is not a contagious disease and it cannot be sexually transmitted.
The signs of lupus & its symptoms will be dependent on which body systems have been impacted by the disease and the most common ones include:
- Fatigue & fever
- Swelling in joints, stiffness and pain
- Butterfly-shaped facial rash that covers the bridge of the nose and both cheeks
- Skin lesions which appear/ worsen when exposed to the sun
- Fingers & toes turn white/blue when they are exposed to cold
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Memory loss, confusion, headaches
- Dry eyes
What Causes Lupus?
Lupus occurs when the immune system starts attacking healthy tissue in the body. It is very likely that lupus is a result of a combination of the individual’s genetic make-up & his/her environment. It seems that individuals who have an inherited predisposition for this disease, might develop it whenever they come into contact with some triggers in the environment. Though the exact cause is not known, some potential triggers are:
- Sunlight– Exposure to the sun’s rays might bring-on lupus skin lesions/ trigger an internal response in individuals who are susceptible to it
- Medications– The disease might be triggered by some types of anti-seizure medicines, antibiotics & blood pressure medications. Individuals who have this type of drug-induced lupus generally see their symptoms disappear when they discontinue the medication.
Risk of lupus might increase with certain factors such as:
- Gender– Women are more commonly affected by lupus
- Age– Though people of all ages can be affected by it, Lupus is largely diagnosed in people in the 15-40 years age group
- Race– This disease is more common in Asians, Hispanics and African Americans
Diagnosis of lupus is very difficult as there is a considerable variation in the signs & symptoms, from person to person and they also tend to mimic those of various other diseases. It takes more than one test to confirm lupus. It’s always a combination of urine & blood tests. Tracking the different symptoms and signs and conducting a physical exam can lead to a strong diagnosis.
Treatment for Lupus
Lupus can harm the affected person’s kidneys in different ways. Thus, its treatments will vary depending on the kind of damage that has occurred. Sometimes, doctors might test a miniature sample of the affected kidney tissue to determine which line of treatment should be followed. The commonly-used medicines to control this disease include:
- NSAID’s or Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs– Certain over-the-counter NSAID’s like naproxen & ibuprofen might be used in the treatment of the swelling, pain and fever that is associated with lupus
- Anti-malarial drugs– Medications that are commonly used in the treatment of malaria, like hydroxychloroquine may help in controlling lupus
- Corticosteroids– Prednisone & some other corticosteroids might be able to counter the inflammation that is caused by lupus. However, these tend to have some long term side-effects
- Immune suppressants– Drugs which suppress the immune system might be helpful in some severe cases of the disease.
Like many other autoimmune diseases, currently, there is no cure for Lupus, and treating its symptoms is about keeping track of what the triggers are, eliminating those as far as possible and treating the patient appropriately.
Have you come across people with Lupus who have made remarkable recovery? Please share their story for the benefit of all.