Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when your body's immune system attacks your own tissues and organs. Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different body systems, including your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, heart and lungs.
Lupus occurs more frequently in women, though it isn't clear why. Four types of lupus exist — systemic lupus erythematosus, discoid lupus erythematosus, drug-induced lupus erythematosus and neonatal lupus. Of these, systemic lupus erythematosus is the most common and serious form of lupus.
The outlook for people with lupus was once grim, but diagnosis and treatment of lupus has improved considerably. With treatment, most people with lupus can lead active lives.
No two cases of lupus are exactly alike. Signs and symptoms may come on suddenly or develop slowly, may be mild or severe, and may be temporary or permanent. Most people with lupus have mild disease characterized by episodes — called flares — when signs and symptoms get worse for a while, then improve or even disappear completely for a time.
The signs and symptoms of lupus that you experience will depend on which body systems are affected by the disease. But, in general, lupus signs and symptoms may include:
When to see a doctor
If you've already been diagnosed with lupus, meet with your doctor on a regular basis so that your condition and treatment can be monitored. Make an appointment with your doctor if new symptoms arise.
Lupus facial rash
A typical sign of lupus is a red, butterfly-shaped rash over your cheeks and nose, often following exposure to sunlight. ...
Lupus is an autoimmune disease, which means that instead of just attacking foreign substances, such as bacteria and viruses, your immune system also turns against healthy tissue. This leads to inflammation and damage to various parts of the body, including the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels and brain.
Doctors don't know what causes autoimmune diseases, such as lupus. It's likely that lupus results from a combination of your genetics and your environment. Doctors believe that you may inherit a predisposition to lupus, but not lupus itself. Instead, people with an inherited predisposition for lupus may only develop the disease when they come into contact with something in the environment that can trigger lupus, such as a medication or a virus.
Types of lupus
While doctors don't know what causes lupus in many cases, they have identified factors that may increase your risk of the disease, including:
Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many areas of your body, including your:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or primary care provider. Because the symptoms of lupus can mimic so many other health problems, you may need patience while waiting for a diagnosis. Your doctor must rule out a number of other illnesses before diagnosing lupus.
Here's some information to help you prepare for your first appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
For lupus, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
Diagnosing lupus is difficult because signs and symptoms vary considerably from person to person. Signs and symptoms of lupus may change over time and overlap with those of many other disorders. For these reasons, doctors may not initially consider lupus until the signs and symptoms become more obvious. Even then, lupus can be challenging to diagnose because nearly all people with lupus experience fluctuations in disease activity. At times the disease may become severe and at other times subside completely.
American College of Rheumatology criteria for a lupus diagnosis
Treatments and drugs
Treatment for lupus depends on your signs and symptoms. Determining whether your signs and symptoms should be treated and what medications to use requires a careful discussion of the benefits and risks with your doctor. As your signs and symptoms flare and subside, you and your doctor may find that you'll need to change medications or dosages.
Common medications used to treat lupus
Treatment for specific signs and symptoms
Treatment for aggressive lupus
High-dose corticosteroids can be combined with immunosuppressive drugs to reduce the dosage of each drug, which may reduce the risk of side effects. Sometimes, even with aggressive treatment, your kidneys may fail. In that case, you may need kidney dialysis or, if kidney failure is permanent, a kidney transplant.
Treatments being studied in clinical trials include:
Lifestyle and home remedies
Take steps to care for your body if you have lupus. Simple steps can help you prevent lupus flares and, should they occur, better cope with the signs and symptoms you experience. Try to:
If your medications aren't controlling all of your signs and symptoms or if you're frustrated by lupus flares, you might turn to complementary and alternative medicine for solutions. Mainstream doctors are becoming more open to discussing these options with their patients. But, since few of these treatments have been extensively studied in clinical trials, it's difficult to assess whether these treatments are helpful for lupus. In some cases, the risks of these treatments aren't known.
If you're interested in trying complementary and alternative medicine therapies, discuss these treatments with your doctor first. He or she can help you weigh the benefits and risks and tell you if the treatments will interfere with your current lupus medications.
Some common complementary and alternative treatments for lupus include:
Other complementary and alternative medicine treatments are available. Discuss the options with your doctor.
Coping and support
If you have lupus, you're likely to have a range of painful feelings about your condition, from fear to extreme frustration. The challenges of living with lupus increase your risk of depression and related mental health problems, such as anxiety, stress and low self-esteem. To help you cope with lupus, try to:
Last Updated: 2011-03-26
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