Lupus affects an estimated 5 million people worldwide, including well-known figures like Seal, Paula Abdul, and Selena Gomez. However, most of the public knows very little about this condition.
What Is Lupus?
A systemic autoimmune disease, lupus is a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs. As a result, the disease can affect an array of bodily systems, including joints, kidneys, lungs, and skin. Unfortunately, because the effects of lupus are so extensive and widespread, identifying the disease can be difficult.
Lupus Symptoms and Signs
The signs of lupus often mimic those of other conditions. For this reason, obtaining a lupus diagnosis can be complex. One of the main symptoms to look for is the presence of a butterfly-shaped rash that spreads over both cheeks and the nose.
Left untreated, lupus results in a significant disruption to your daily life. Determining the right course of treatment for your lupus depends in part on the types of symptoms you have.
Lupus Treatment Options
Lupus patients often suffer flares in their symptoms. Working with your doctor, you can determine what treatments and medications can help alleviate discomfort and boost quality of life. Doctors who treat diseases of the joints and muscles, rheumatologists handle most lupus cases.
As your lupus signs and symptoms flare and subside, you and your doctor may find that you’ll need to change medications or dosages. The medications most commonly used to control lupus include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil and Motrin, which reduce swelling and pain and treat fever
- Prescription painkillers
- Antimalarial drugs, which reduce the number of symptom flares
- Corticosteroids, which treat the inflammation that can accompany lupus but may result in unpleasant side effects
- Immunosuppressants, which dampen the immune system, so it can’t attack the body’s own organs as readily
Some lupus patients also see improvement from biologics. Approved in 2011, the biologic Benlysta can be effective in controlling mild lupus symptoms. Because most of these medications come with serious side effects, it may be necessary to adjust the dosages to achieve optimal wellness while minimizing discomfort and tissue damage.
Additionally, some patients benefit from reducing stress, eating a healthy diet, and incorporating regular exercise into their routines.
It’s important to realize that lupus is not curable. Instead, the goal is to put lupus patients in remission, or a state in which they are no longer experiencing symptoms. While some individuals go into remission early on, others suffer frequent bouts of symptoms their whole lives. Regular communication with your doctor is the best way to ensure your condition stays under control. It’s recommended to document your symptoms periodically, so you know if new problems occur.
What Causes Lupus
No single factor causes certain people to develop lupus. Instead, experts believe the disease likely develops as a response to multiple internal and external factors.
Because women develop lupus nine times more often than men do, researchers believe that the female hormone estrogen could have something to do with the disease. Women tend to have lupus flares before their periods, when estrogen production is high.
Lupus also has a genetic component, as it tends to run in families. The autoimmune disease is also more common among certain ethnic groups, including Africans, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, and those of Pacific Island descent.
Environmental factors can also play a part in the development of lupus. Some researchers suggest that encountering a particular virus or environmental agent can trigger the disease in those who are already susceptible. Many doctors hypothesize that UVA and UVB lights, infections, and silica dust exposure can be culprits.
Getting a Lupus Diagnosis
Because the symptoms of lupus are so diverse, getting diagnosed with the condition can be a long process. Many patients suspect they have lupus disease long before they’re diagnosed. Moreover, there’s no single test to diagnose the condition.
Instead, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) uses classification criteria to determine whether or not a person has lupus. A patient must have four or more of the following symptoms to be diagnosed:
- Malar rash
- Discoid rash
- Sensitivity to light
- Oral and/or nasal ulcers
- Inflammation of the lining around the lungs or heart
- Kidney disease
- Blood disorders
Beyond a symptom check, doctors may perform an ANA test to test for autoantibodies.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with lupus, check out this article for natural relief from lupus symptoms.