No one knows the exact cause of the chronic inflammatory disease known as lupus. What is known is that for some reason, the condition causes the body’s immune system to attack its own healthy organs and tissue. The inflammation from this reaction can affect any number of body systems, including the skin, kidneys, joints, brain, blood cells, lungs, and heart.
No two cases are alike and many of the symptoms resemble other ailments, often making lupus difficult to diagnose.
Difficult as it may be to diagnose, there are ways to catch and treat the condition. Here are the basics when it comes to lupus.
The type of symptoms experienced by those with lupus depends on the body system affected. The symptoms may develop slowly or come on all of a sudden, and they range from being very mild to extremely severe. Just as the severity differs, so does the longevity. For some, the symptoms may only last a short time, whereas for others, they may be permanent. In most cases, however, signs and symptoms come and go in episodes.
One of the most common and recognizable traits among those with lupus is a rash in the shape of butterfly wings that spreads across the nose and onto both cheeks. But every person with lupus doesn’t get this rash. Therefore, it’s important to recognize other symptoms as well, which include the following:
Additionally, symptoms of lupus are often made worse by sunlight, certain drugs, or infections. Regardless of whether these things worsen your symptoms, if you experience any of them, make an appointment to see your doctor.
While the exact cause of lupus is unknown, some people seem to be born with a genetic tendency to develop this disease. Lupus is thought to result from a combination of genetics and environment. So when those who inherit a predisposition this disease come in contact with an unknown environmental trigger, lupus develops.
While lupus can affect people of all ages, races, and sexes, it is most commonly diagnosed in women of African American, Hispanic, Native American, or Asian descent who are between 15 and 40 years old.
There is no one specific test to diagnose lupus, and it can take months or even years to eventually make a diagnosis. But it takes a combination of physical examinations, blood and urine tests, and recognition of signs and symptoms.
As of today, a cure has yet to be found for lupus. In the meantime, medication and lifestyle changes are helpful to control the disease. Because the effects of lupus can vary so greatly, so does treatment. Therefore, treatment depends on the symptoms and what body system is affected. As symptoms flare and subside, medications and dosages will need to be adjusted over time to best help manage the symptoms.
The most common drugs used to treat lupus include over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen. These help lower fever and treat the pain and swelling that comes with lupus. If needed, stronger dosages are available by prescription. Antimalarial drugs, corticosteroids such as prednisone, and immune suppressant drugs have also been found helpful in controlling lupus symptoms, but aren’t without side effects.
Lifestyle changes can help prevent flare-ups and can help you cope with your symptoms. If you’re living with lupus, it will likely be helpful to get plenty of rest, stay out of the sun, get regular exercise, eat healthy, and don’t smoke.
When it comes to coping with the stress and fears of living with lupus, you should learn all you can about the disease. But don’t suffer from information overload. Work with your physician to know how lupus is specifically affecting you and what you can do to live a full life - even with lupus.