What Is Lupus?

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation throughout your body. It can be debilitating when flare-ups occur, but treatments that can reduce flare-ups. Diagnosing lupus is key to finding treatment. Here’s information you should know.

7 minute read

Last Updated July 13, 2020

What Is Lupus - Immunity - 1MD

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease where your immune system initiates widespread inflammation throughout your body. As a result, cells and tissues are damaged, and organs throughout your body, including joints, skin, heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain are affected. 

Lupus can be life-threatening and can cause permanent organ damage, but most people experience only mild versions of the disease.  

Lupus Causes

The exact cause of lupus is not known, but there are a number of factors believed to contribute to its development. 

♦ Infections such as Epstein-Barr and hepatitis C have been linked to lupus.
♦ Hormones, when present in abnormal levels, can contribute to lupus.
♦ A family history of lupus slightly increases your risk for the disease.
♦ Certain environmental factors like smoking and toxin exposure are potential causes.
♦ Long term use of medications like quinidine and hydralazine causes a form of drug-induced lupus.

Lupus Symptoms

Depending on what part of your body is affected, the symptoms you experience will vary. Symptoms can be temporary or permanent and can disappear suddenly. 

Every experience of lupus is different, but the common symptoms include:

♦ Skin lesions
♦ Lupus rash (butterfly-shaped rash on the face)
♦ Chest pain
♦ Dry eyes
♦ Fever
Fatigue
Body aches
♦ Headaches
♦ Confusion

In later stages of lupus, individuals may develop kidney problems and may notice dark-colored urine or blood in the urine. 

Lupus Diagnosis

There is not a specific test to diagnose lupus. Your doctor will analyze your symptoms to rule out other conditions that may be causing them. A medical history and physical examination are also done. 

Tests that may be conducted include:

♦ Blood counts to evaluate red and white cell counts, protein levels, and antinuclear antibody levels.

♦ Imaging tests such as x-rays and echocardiograms to check for fluid buildup around the heart

♦ Biopsy of tissues from a rash infected area or the kidneys.

Treatment for Lupus

There is no cure for lupus, but there are medications available to help reduce and control symptoms. The medications prescribed will depend on the severity of the disease and symptoms. 

The most commonly prescribed medications include:

♦ NSAID’s
♦ Corticosteroids
♦ Immunosuppressive drugs

Lupus Diet

There is no one diet or selection of foods that treat lupus, but there are certain foods that you should avoid so as not to cause flare-ups. Certain foods can also interact with lupus medications. 

Alcohol is a food item that will interact with NSAIDs to cause gastrointestinal problems. Corticosteroids can cause bloating, but by limiting cholesterol and salt, you can minimize this.

Because inflammation plays a large role in lupus symptoms, eating to reduce and limit inflammation has proven to be beneficial for those with lupus. The best foods to add to your diet to reduce inflammation include:

♦ Omega-3 fatty acids as found in fish like tuna and salmon
♦ Low-fat dairy products full of calcium
♦ Whole-grain carbohydrates
♦ Variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, which are full of antioxidants that help to combat inflammation

Natural Treatments for Lupus

In addition to medications, your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes to help reduce lupus disease symptoms. 

One of the most common changes is to minimize sunlight exposure and excess ultraviolet exposure. Sunscreen should always be worn when outdoors. 

It is also important to get plenty of rest and to minimize stress through relaxation techniques. Stress can trigger inflammation and lupus symptom flare-ups. 

Certain natural supplements are also taken to reduce symptoms such as vitamin D, fish oil, and flaxseed. Lupus causes low vitamin D levels, so it is important to maintain these levels, especially during flare-ups, to prevent more serious complications like heart disease. 

Both fish oil and flaxseed contain anti-inflammatory compounds that help reduce symptoms of lupus, and studies have found that fish oil supplements slow the activity of the disease. 

What Are the Variations of Lupus?

Lupus is categorized into four different types:

1. Systemic lupus erythematosus is the most common type and ranges from mild to severe. Symptoms can get worse over time and then suddenly improve.

2. Cutaneous lupus is limited to the skin in most cases and causes rashes and skin lesions that scar. 

3. Drug-induced lupus is caused by long-term use of certain medications, and it mimics systemic lupus, but it does not generally affect major organs in the body. 

4. Neonatal lupus is rare, and it occurs in infants whose mother has lupus. Symptoms will include skin rash, low blood cell counts, and liver problems after birth.  

Lupus Statistics

♦ It is estimated that 1.5 million Americans have some form of Lupus, and close to 5 million worldwide.

♦ 90 percent of the people living with lupus are women, and it typically strikes during childbearing years.

♦ The CDC estimates that there are close to 16,000 new cases of lupus each year.

Lupus and Disability

More advanced cases of lupus or aggressive versions can impair your life, making it difficult to perform daily activities. This is especially true when the joints become affected, and moving becomes painful. In these cases, lupus can prevent you from working as your abilities are greatly reduced. 

Because advanced treatments now help reduce symptoms and allow you to live a healthy life, only these extreme cases are classified as a disability. 

Lupus and Children

Neonatal lupus is rare, but it happens as a result of an infant being exposed to the disease from their affected mother. Lupus can also develop in children in the same way as they can with adults. 

The disease tends to be more severe and aggressive in children. The symptoms in children include fatigue, butterfly rash on the face, and weight loss. Lupus also affects important organs in children, such as the kidneys, brain, liver, heart, and lungs, causing serious complications if not treated. 

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

Lupus does not have a cure, and it can severely impact a person’s health and lifestyle. The more severe the disease is, the more risk you have for developing serious complications. 

Recent medical advancements and enhanced testing allow for people to live longer with lupus, and almost 90 percent now live a normal lifespan. With adherence to medication schedules and a focus on wellness, you can live as healthy as a life as possible. 

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