Lupus

Lupus (also called systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE) is a disorder of the body's natural defense system (immune system). In lupus, the immune system attacks various areas of the body (autoimmune disease).

CAUSES

The cause is unknown. However, lupus runs in families. Certain genes can make you more likely to develop lupus. It is 10 times more common in women than in men. Lupus is also more common in African Americans and Asians. Other factors also play a role, such as viruses (Epstein-Barr virus, EBV), stress, hormones, cigarette smoke, and certain drugs.

SYMPTOMS

Lupus can affect many parts of the body, including the joints, skin, kidneys, lungs, heart, nervous system, and blood vessels. The signs and symptoms of lupus differ from person to person. The disease can range from mild to life-threatening. Typical features of lupus include:

  • Butterfly-shaped rash over the face.

  • Arthritis involving one or more joints.

  • Kidney disease.

  • Fever, weight loss, hair loss, fatigue.

  • Poor circulation in the fingers and toes (Raynaud's disease).

  • Chest pain when taking deep breaths. Abdominal pain may also occur.

  • Skin rash in areas exposed to the sun.

  • Sores in the mouth and nose.

DIAGNOSIS

Diagnosing lupus can take a long time and is often difficult. An exam and an accurate account of your symptoms and health problems is very important. Blood tests are necessary, though no single test can confirm or rule out lupus. Most people with lupus test positive for antinuclear antibodies (ANA) on a blood test. Additional blood tests, a urine test (urinalysis), and sometimes a kidney or skin tissue sample (biopsy) can help to confirm or rule out lupus.

TREATMENT

There is no cure for lupus. Your caregiver will develop a treatment plan based on your age, sex, health, symptoms, and lifestyle. The goals are to prevent flares, to treat them when they do occur, and to minimize organ damage and complications. How the disease may affect each person varies widely. Most people with lupus can live normal lives, but this disorder must be carefully monitored. Treatment must be adjusted as necessary to prevent serious complications.

Medicines used for treatment:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) decrease inflammation and can help with chest pain, joint pain, and fevers. Examples include ibuprofen and naproxen.

  • Antimalarial drugs were designed to treat malaria. They also treat fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, and inflammation of the lungs in patients with lupus.

  • Corticosteroids are powerful hormones that rapidly suppress inflammation. The lowest dose with the highest benefit will be chosen. They can be given by cream, pills, injections, and through the vein (intravenously).

  • Immunosuppressive drugs block the making of immune cells. They may be used for kidney or nerve disease.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Exercise. Low-impact activities can usually help keep joints flexible without being too strenuous.

  • Rest after periods of exercise.

  • Avoid excessive sun exposure.

  • Follow proper nutrition and take supplements as recommended by your caregiver.

  • Stress management can be helpful.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You have increased fatigue.

  • You develop pain.

  • You develop a rash.

  • You have an oral temperature above 102° F (38.9° C).

  • You develop abdominal discomfort.

  • You develop a headache.

  • You experience dizziness.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: www.ninds.nih.gov

American College of Rheumatology: www.rheumatology.org

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: www.niams.nih.gov