The work of the body’s immune system is to protect it from diseases and viruses. But in one extreme case, for some unknown reason, the immune system starts attacking healthy tissues—with the kidneys, blood, heart, lungs, joints, nervous system, and skin being targeted. This is called Lupus—a chronic autoimmune disease that causes the healthy tissues to become inflamed and painful.
Women, more than men, are likely to be affected, from their teen years to middle age. The cause has not yet been established for this disease but it is linked to environmental, heredity and hormonal factors. It is also thought to be triggered by certain kinds of food, hair dyes, some toxic chemicals, and stress. Sex, age, and race, family medical history and the Epstein-Barr infection are all considered to be risk factors for this disease.
Systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE is the most common and severe kind of lupus. With this, joints become painfully inflamed, and the patient develops skin rashes, tremendous tiredness, and kidney damage. Newborn babies can receive the antibodies from their mothers even though the latter manifest no symptoms of the disease. The prognosis for lupus used not to be very good but now identification and management of the disease has improved considerably and lupus patients can lead normally active lives.
Doctors have observed that patients have differing attacks of lupus. The symptoms may be severe, coming on suddenly, and be permanent—or the exact opposite. Lupus patients will suffer flare-ups when the inflammation increases and then have remissions when the symptoms disappear. The symptoms manifest as muscle and joint pains in the limbs, knees, hips, shoulder, and jaw. Energy levels will be low and fatigue will set in as will appetite loss and fever. Facial rashes and sores in the mouth or nasal lining develop. Arthritis and kidney problems are common. Lupus patients develop extreme sensitivity to sunlight. Hair loss can be a problem and all these will lead to depression.
If you have developed an inexplicable rash and have recurring fever and severe weakness, and other symptoms that have been described earlier, then contact your doctor. If you have already been diagnosed with lupus then make sure you monitor your condition regularly and check with the physician if new symptoms manifest themselves such as chest pain, extreme abdominal pain, or seizures.
If your doctor diagnoses you with SLE he may refer you to a rheumatologist, who specializes in inflammation of the joints and muscles. You will undergo a physical examination and your medical history will be thoroughly vetted. Laboratory tests will be recommended such as blood and urine tests to determine the blood count and protein levels, and the functioning of the kidney and liver. Antinuclear antibody levels are also checked because their presence might indicate the existence of lupus. Chest x-rays and ECGs are recommended to determine inflammation and damage.
Follow the treatment your doctor advises and you can still lead a normal life. If not, complications will set in which will affect your heart, lungs, nervous system, blood vessels and kidneys, and also lead to diseases like cancer and bone tissue death. Apart from medication you can take good care of yourself by cutting down on smoking and reducing your alcohol intake. Increase exercise in your regular routine, while protecting your joints, and have a healthy diet. Take plenty of rest, avoid or learn to manage stress, and protect yourself from sunlight. Be careful about any medications or vaccinations you take—always consult your doctor.
Research is ongoing about more effective treatments for lupus and also on the genetic factors that cause it. But until doctors are able to establish the underlying cause of this disease lupus patients should be aware of the complications and increase self-care. Follow medical instructions so you lead an active normal healthy life.
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