What is lupus?
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation throughout your body. An autoimmune disease is a condition in which your body’s own immune system is responsible for the inflammation and breakdown of its own cells. The inflammation seen in lupus can affect various organs and tissues in your body, including your:
This disease can be severe and potentially life-threatening. It can cause permanent organ damage. However, many people with lupus experience a mild version of it. Currently, there’s no known cure for lupus.
What are the symptoms of lupus?
The symptoms of lupus vary according to the parts of your body affected. Symptoms can disappear suddenly. They can be permanent or flare up occasionally. Although no two cases of lupus are the same, the most common symptoms and signs include:
- a fever
- body aches
- joint pain
- rashes, including a butterfly rash on the face
- skin lesions
- shortness of breath
- chronic dry eyes
- chest pain
- memory loss
Some of the later symptoms of lupus include kidney problems due to inflammation called nephritis. A person may experience high blood pressure, dark urine, and blood in the urine.
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What are the causes of lupus?
While doctors don’t know exactly what causes lupus, they think it may be a combination of many underlying factors. These include:
- Environment: Doctors have identified potential triggers like smoking, stress, and exposure to toxins like silica dust as potential lupus causes.
- Genetics: Having a family history of lupus may put a person at a slightly higher risk of experiencing the condition.
- Hormones: Some studies suggest that abnormal hormone levels, such as increased estrogen levels, could contribute to lupus.
- Infections: Doctors are still studying the link between infections like cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr, or hepatitis C and causes of lupus.
- Medications: Long-term use of certain medications, such as hydralazine (Apresoline), procainamide (Procanbid), and quinidine, have been linked with causing a form of lupus known as drug-induced lupus erythematosus.
It’s also possible a person has experienced none of the known potential causes of lupus listed here and yet has the condition.
What are the risk factors for lupus?
Examples of risk factors for lupus include:
- being a woman
- being between the ages of 15 and 44
- being a member of certain ethnic groups, such as African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, Native American, or Pacific Islander
- Having a family history of lupus
Having risk factors for lupus doesn’t mean you will get lupus, but that you are at increased risk compared to those who don’t have risk factors.
Is lupus curable?
Currently, there is no cure for lupus. However, research regularly explores promising innovations in lupus treatment. These include some animal studies that show early promise that lupus is curable.
Doctors don’t have a specific blood test or imaging study to use to diagnose lupus. Instead, they consider a person’s signs and symptoms and rule out other potential conditions that could be causing a person’s symptoms.
In addition to taking a detailed medical history and physical examination, doctors may perform the following tests to diagnose lupus:
- Laboratory tests: These could include a complete blood count (CBC), test doctors use to determine the number and type of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in the blood. Other tests a doctor may order include an erythrocyte sedimentation rate, protein levels, and anti-nuclear antibody test, which can indicate heightened immune system activity.
- Imaging tests: Chest X-rays and echocardiograms are two imaging studies that may indicate the buildup of fluid on or around the heart. Positive results may reflect lupus causes.
- Tissue biopsy: Doctors can take a biopsy or sample of cells from an area of lupus-like rash to determine if cells typical of a person with lupus are present.
A doctor may also perform a kidney biopsy to see if the kidneys appear damaged due to lupus. Lupus-related kidney damage is called lupus nephritis.
What are the lupus types?
Doctors usually categorize four lupus types. These include:
- Systemic lupus erythematosus: Sle – The most common lupus type, this condition can range from mild to severe. The condition causes symptoms that may get worse over time, then improve.
- Cutaneous lupus: This type of lupus is generally limited to your skin. It may cause rashes and permanent lesions with scarring. The cutaneous form of skin lupus that causes scarring is called discoid lupus.
- DILE: Long-term use of certain prescription medications can lead to drug-induced lupus. DILE is caused by the long-term use of certain prescribed medications. It mimics the symptoms of systemic lupus, but in most cases, the condition doesn’t affect major organs.
- Neonatal lupus: This condition is extremely rare and affects infants whose mothers have lupus. Symptoms of this condition may include a skin rash, low blood cell counts, and liver problems after birth. While some babies may have heart defects, most have symptoms that will go away after several months.
Some lupus types have further divisions depending on a person’s symptoms.
Is lupus contagious?
Lupus isn’t a contagious condition. Although some people with a family history of the condition are more at risk for it, they don’t “catch” it from another person.
Lupus prevention tips?
For most lupus types, the condition isn’t preventable. An exception is the medications known to cause drug-induced lupus. However, it’s important a person discuss the risks and benefits as not taking these medications could also result in life-threatening effects.
Additionally, a person may wish to engage in preventive measures that reduce the likelihood they will experience a lupus flare-up. These include:
- Avoiding direct sunlight: Excess sun exposure can cause a lupus-related rash. A person should always wear sunscreen when going outdoors and avoid direct sunlight when the sun’s rays are most overhead, which is usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Practising stress management techniques. These include meditation, yoga, or massages that can help a person relieve stress whenever possible.
- Practising infection prevention techniques. This includes frequent hand-washing and avoiding being around those with colds and other illnesses.
- Getting plenty of rest. Rest is vital to helping a person’s body heal.
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