Lupus is an autoimmune disease where the immune system becomes overactive and attacks the body, damaging normal, healthy tissue.
What are the symptoms of lupus?
Lupus affects people in different ways. Symptoms can occur in many parts of the body, and include swelling, joint pain, and red itchy skin.
Some people experience a red rash on the face, across their cheeks and nose, called a Butterfly Rash.
Long term, lupus can damage the joints, blood vessels and blog and the skin, as well as internal organs like the kidneys, heart, lungs and even the brain. Around 1 in 3 lupus patients will experience kidney issues.
Conditions associated with lupus include:
- Nephritis - inflammation of the kidneys
- Pleuritis - inflammation of the chest cavity
- Vasculititis - inflammation of the blood vessels
- Leukopenia and Thrombocytopenia - blood diseases
- Myocarditis and Pericarditis - inflammation around the heart
Who gets lupus?
There are approximately 16,000 new cases of lupus in the USA each year, and up to 1.5 million people may be living with the condition, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.
Women are particularly affected, and it is most likely to appear between the ages of 15 and 44 years.
What causes lupus?
The exact cause of lupus is unclear.
It is one of many autoimmune disorders where the immune system becomes hyperactive, and cannot differentiate between unwanted substances, (like viruses, bacteria, and germs), and healthy tissue.
As a result, the immune system directs antibodies against both the healthy tissue and the antigens. The result is swelling, pain, and tissue damage.
What happens during a lupus flare?
The symptoms of lupus occur in times of flare-ups. Between flare-ups, people may experience times of reduced disease activity, with fewer symptoms.
Lupus has a wide range of symptoms that can happen during a flare-up , including:
- a loss of appetite and weight loss
- pain or swelling in joints and muscles
- swelling in the legs or around the eyes
- swollen glands, or lymph nodes
- skin rashes, due to bleeding under the skin
- mouth ulcers
- sensitivity to the sun
- chest pain upon deep breathing
- pale or purple fingers or toes from cold or stress (Raynaud’s Disease)
How is lupus treated?
There is currently no cure for lupus, but people can manage their symptoms and flares with medication and lifestyle changes.
Treatment aims to prevent or manage flares, and reduce the risk of long term damage.
The exact treatment will depend on how lupus affects the individual. Without treatment, flares can occur that may have life-threatening consequences.
Medication can help to regulate the immune system to reduce pain and swelling, preventing joint and organ damage.
Apart from medication, the following remedies may help to relieve pain or reduce the risk of a flare:
- applying heat and cold
- participating in relaxation or meditation activities, including yoga and tai chi
- doing regular exercise when possible
- avoiding exposure to the sun
- avoid stress, as far as possible
Today, effective therapy makes it possible to manage lupus, so that a person can live an active, healthy life.