Arthritis: Lupus

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Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease that occurs when your body's immune system attacks your own tissues and organs. The inflammation can affect numerous body systems, from your joints to your lungs. It can be a challenging disease to diagnose as its signs and symptoms mimic those of other ailments.

It's believed that lupus is caused by your genetics and your environment. Some people are born with a tendency towards developing lupus. It may be triggered by certain drugs, sunlight or infections.

Women get lupus about nine times more often than men, and it mostly affects women of childbearing age. It is estimated that about 1 in 1,000 people have lupus.

Because lupus is due to your body's immune system attacking healthy tissues in the joints, skin and other organs. Lupus causes a wide range of symptoms that vary among patients, depending on the severity of the disease and the area of the body affected.

That said, many patients experience a consistent pattern of symptoms and flare-ups that's personal to them.

If you have lupus, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Skin rashes that may be triggered by sunlight, especially a particular type of red skin rash on the face called a malar rash or butterfly rash
  • Joint aches and swelling
  • Raynaud's phenomenon, which causes the fingers and toes to turn white or blue in the cold
  • Fatigue
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Hair loss
  • Muscle pain
  • Swelling of the legs or eyes
  • Chest pain

Diagnosis of Lupus

To properly diagnose systemic lupus erythematosus,  you should see a rheumatologist, a type of physician who specializes in arthritis and autoimmune disease.

To diagnose lupus, your physician will take your complete medical history, perform a complete physical examination and order blood tests.

For most patients, lupus symptoms are the worst in the first few two to five years after diagnosis. It's important to work with your rheumatologist to minimize damage as much as possible.

There are a number of blood tests that can help diagnose lupus:

Anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) test: This important test looks for antibodies that attack the body. If this test comes back negative, then it’s generally believed that they don’t have lupus. If it comes back positive, your rheumatologist may prescribe more tests to confirm lupus.

Anti-Double Stranded DNA (anti-dsDNA) test: Your rheumatologist can measure antibodies that attack DNA with this very specific test for lupus.

Extractable Nuclear Antigen (ENA) panel: The antibodies in this panel may include anti-Ro (also called anti-SSA), anti-La (also called anti-SSB), anti-Sm, anti-RNP, anti-Jo-1, anti-Scl70, and anti-centromere. This test looks for antibodies that attack certain proteins.

Complete Blood Count (CBC): Because lupus can cause inflammation, this blood test can detect abnormal results.

Creatinine: If you have abnormally high levels of creatinine, this can indicate a problem with how your kidneys are functioning.

Treatments for Lupus

Fortunately, there are numerous medications that can effectively treat lupus. The goal of lupus treatment are to prevent and treat flares and reduce organ and tissue damage.

Although lupus can cause a number of symptoms, it often shows a consistent pattern, and flares tend to follow predictable patterns. So, if you begin to understand your disease, it can help you treat it more effectively.

Find more resources on lupus. 

Print this Action Plan and check off items that you want to discuss with your healthcare provider

  • Some types of lupus only affect the skin, while systemic lupus affects the skin, joints and some organs.

  • It's unusual for an individual over the age of 40 to develop systemic lupus, although it never can be ruled out 100 percent. It's also an unusual condition in males - for every 10 to 15 females with lupus, there may be one male.

  • Common symptoms of lupus are fatigue, joint pain with or without swelling, skin rashes, hair loss, swollen lymph nodes, chest pain and sores in the mouth.

  • Although lupus is quite variable from one person to the next, it tends to have quite a consistent pattern in individuals. Flare-ups tend to be very consistent and present in a similar way each time.

  • The most common medications for lupus include NSAIDs, prednisone, immune modulators, azathioprine or methotrexate and biologic medications.

Adhering to your medications, prescribed exercises or lifestyle changes (such as dietary changes, smoking cessation, reduced alcohol consumption, etc.) is essential to improving health outcomes successfully. Compliance to any prescribed treatment is the number one thing you can do to ensure positive changes and optimal treatment outcomes.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal, healthy tissue. This results in symptoms such as inflammation, swelling, and damage to joints, skin, kidneys, blood, the heart, and lung

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