Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE) is a chronic auto-immune disease that causes uncontrolled inflammation or swelling. It can affect many different parts of the human body in unpredictable ways. Lupus is a disease in which leads the immune system to produce antibodies that attack healthy cells and tissues. Usually, our antibodies target foreign invaders like viruses or bacteria to help keep us healthy; they do not normally target our cells. The antibody attacks create inflammation that may cause damage to the skin, joints, and internal organs like the kidneys, brain, heart, and lungs. Lupus can also be difficult to diagnose because its signs and symptoms commonly mimic those of other conditions, therefore, many people living with lupus experience a mild level of it, but it can become much more severe without proper treatment. Currently, there is no cure for this disease, so despite the mimic and unknown cure, treatment focuses on easing symptoms and reducing inflammation.
There a plenty of types of lupus that are autoimmune diseases. This means that the immune system can attack an individual’s own body as mentioned earlier. When a person has lupus, the immune system can attack different parts of the body, including the skin, kidneys, and lungs. What causes people to develop this type of disease is uncertain. It may be a combination of genes, environmental triggers, and hormones. Anything that triggers the immune system to attack itself can cause lupus to flare up. Whenever lupus affects the skin, common triggers for lupus are:
- An infection
- Certain medicines
- Surgery or a serious injury
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Memory loss
This auto-immune disease typically begins when a person is entering adulthood. This can be anywhere between teens and into the age of 30. Some early signs include fatigue, fever, rash, swollen joints, dry mouth or dry eyes, hair loss, and problems with the lungs, kidneys, or thyroid.
Lupus can also cause photosensitivity. While too much sun can be harmful to anyone, many people who currently have lupus also have photosensitivity. Photosensitivity defines when an individual is particularly sensitive to UV radiation, a type of radiation that is in sunlight or even certain types of artificial light.
Some people with lupus could discover that exposure to sunlight triggers certain symptoms, including photosensitive rashes, fatigue, joint pain, and internal swelling. Researchers also believe that lupus is caused by a combination of inherited (genetic) and environmental factors. Certain environmental triggers may cause the symptoms of lupus to develop or worsen (flare-up) in those with a genetic predisposition for lupus. Some medicines such as antihypertensives (medications used to treat high blood pressures), antibiotics, and anti-seizure medications, have all been known to trigger episodes of lupus. The symptoms that occur during these episodes typically subside once the use of the triggering medication(s) has been discontinued, therefore, discontinuing the use of medications can cause flare-ups to occur.
Who Gets Lupus?
Lupus more commonly affects females, although males can develop the disease as well. In fact, in childhood-onset lupus, the proportion of males affected is higher than it is in adults. Lupus most frequently develops between ages 15 and 44, that being said, only 15% of people living with lupus develop symptoms before the age of 18. Throughout the population, the incidence of lupus is higher in Africans, Asians, Native Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians. The risk of developing lupus is 5-13% higher if a patient has a relative with the same condition. If in case the relative is either the mother or father, the risk is 5% higher.
How Does It Affect You? How Serious Is It?
Lupus commonly causes some amount of inflammation. Sometimes, lupus can flare up, making symptoms harm the individual even worse. Flares can include joint pain, skin rash, and organ troubles, particularly in the kidneys. In regards to kidneys, these organs are most commonly affected by lupus. Long-term inflammation inside the kidneys can cause serious damage. If the kidney becomes scarred enough, it may start to lose function. Soon after severe lupus is treated aggressively, patients are no longer dying from lupus or kidney failure. However, people still have an increased risk of experiencing heart disease. Lupus can cause an inflammation of the heart, leading to an increased rate of heart attacks and an artery disease, even affecting patients in their early 20s. People with this disease have a higher risk of developing anemia or blood clots. Some who are living with lupus also have a likelihood of developing antiphospholipid antibody syndrome (APS). This condition increases the risk of developing blood clots and miscarriages. While blood clots are a possibility regarding lupus, blood clots can occur anywhere in the human body, that includes the lungs, or legs.
Despite how lupus can affect a person’s body, other few parts include:
- Brain – The inflammation can occur inside the brain. This can lead to experiencing headaches, mental problems such as memory loss or poor concentration, seizures, meningitis, or a coma.
- Lungs – Some patients with lupus develop inflammation in the lining around the lungs called pleuritis. This causes chest pains when he or she inhales.
- Joints – People with lupus often have inflammatory arthritis. They may wake up in the morning with stiffness and swelling inside their joints. Normally in the small joints of either the left or right hand.
- Digestive system – Inflammation caused by lupus can spread into the digestive system of a patient. Impacting organs such as the pancreas and the liver.
Sometimes, even the same drugs that can help prevent the immune system from attacking the body can also impair its ability to battle off infections. Patients developing lupus are highly vulnerable to infections, including skin infections and urinary infections.
Many patients who are experiencing lupus will also have a chance of developing what is called cutaneous lupus erythematosus, which is a type of skin disease that can cause rashes and sores that are made to worsen by sun exposure. Some people can even have an increased risk of developing lupus nephritis, which is an inflammation inside the kidneys that may cause high blood pressure or kidney failure. People living with lupus who currently have this condition may experience swollen hands, ankles, or feet, or blood in their urine.
Currently, there is no cure for lupus, although, symptoms and flare-ups are often successfully managed with a proper treatment method. Antimalarial drugs, immunosuppressants, and corticosteroids are a few examples of the types of medications that doctors prescribe to help prevent lupus flare-ups and manage certain symptoms. The types of medications prescribed depend on the patient, what type of lupus he or she has, and their response to treatment. A healthcare provider may determine the required dosage and the right medication on a regular daily basis. These medications below will help reduce pain and swelling, balance hormones, and prevent any joint damage:
Antimalarial drugs – Antimalarial drugs have been well known to help fight against lupus flare-ups and can also help patients live longer while at the stage of developing lupus. Plaquenil and Aralen are two examples of fortunate antimalarial drugs that can help with symptoms such as joint pain, fatigue, and skin rashes. Often side effects of these types of drugs include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Corticosteroids – These can help relieve pain, swelling, and tenderness associated with lupus. Higher doses of corticosteroids are sometimes used to calm the immune system down. However, side effects like depression, allergic reaction, and stomachaches could occur.
Tramadol – Tramadol is a prescription drug that acts like both an opioid pain reliever and an antidepressant. It can strongly help ease short-term pain from lupus. Like opioids, this drug can cause drowsiness.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – When a patient deals with mild pain or swelling due to this disease, over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen can be very helpful. These drugs are available without the need for a prescription and are not meant to replace any other lupus medication that a doctor may prescribe.
Immunosuppressants – For patients who are living with lupus at a severe level where their organs are affected, a doctor may prescribe immunosuppressive medications. These types of medications are usually only used in severe cases when other medications have failed to function. They can cause some serious side effects and even lower the body’s ability to fight off infections.
While the medications mentioned above may fight against certain symptoms within the development of lupus, there is always a possibility for side effects. These common side effects associated with this disease include depression, stomach pain, vomiting, dizziness, joint pain, chest pain, and skin rashes. Lupus may even cause allergic reactions that could result in hives or difficulty breathing. Allergic reactions can most likely become life-threatening depending on the severity of a side effect when taking certain medications.
As to a diagnosis, currently, there is no single test that can officially confirm whether a patient has lupus. However, doctors can still look at a patient’s medical history, perform a physical exam, and ask about any family history of auto-immune disease. In some cases, a blood or urine test may be required. An antinuclear antibody test can also help determine if the patient’s immune system is causing autoantibodies of lupus.
Alternative & Homeopathic Treatment
Some patients discover relief from their lupus symptoms by performing natural and home remedies besides medications. Most lifestyle changes, home remedies, and natural treatment options can help prevent lupus from worsening. Here are some of the most common natural home remedies any patient can perform at home:
- Exercising regularly – Keeping a healthy regular exercise routine can help patients with lupus feel less stress, gain a better sleep, and deal with less joint pain. Lupus is well known to cause fatigue so walking, biking, swimming, or other minor workouts are a positive start.
- Eating healthy and nutritious foods – Eating a healthy diet with many fresh fruits and vegetables may help lupus patients experience fewer side effects from their current medications, have more energy, and help reduce the risk for any further condition. Anti-inflammatory foods that are recommended include fish, bone broth, garlic, onions, and avocados.
- Reducing stress – Finding many ways to reduce stress can help prevent lupus flare-ups. Maintaining emotional stress may be very beneficial, especially knowing lupus can lead a patient’s nervous system to stress out. Meditation, yoga, and being productive with nature are all positive ways to help calm the nervous system down. Some patients find different things that work better for them to reduce stress, so it all matters to what the individual desires.