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What is Lupus?

Published by monica on Thursday, March 21, 2013

Photo credit by Andrea Guerra

What is lupus? Who gets it and what are the symptoms? Here are some facts about this complicated and often misdiagnosed disease.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic (constant) autoimmune (attacks itself) disease that attacks mostly through its negative influence on blood vessels, which are necessary for the maintenance of every part of the body. What that means in English is; It is an autoimmune disease and is a result of an over active immune system, meaning that the antibodies attack the body instead of protect it from diseases, bacteria and viruses.

Lupus is not contagious or infectious and although no one is quite sure what the cause is, it is thought to be hereditary and/or environmental and it can be life threatening. It is believed that certain things may trigger the onset of lupus or cause lupus to flare, these include Ultraviolet light, certain prescription drugs & antibiotics, infections or viruses, hormones & stress.

At this time, there is no cure but the survival rate has gone from 50% to approximately 90%. Lupus affects different people in different ways and is often misdiagnosed. More people have lupus than leukemia, multiple sclerosis & muscular dystrophy so it’s important to raide awareness about this disorder.

There are different forms of Lupus: Discoid Lupus affects the skin; Systemic Lupus Erythematosus attacks any of the body organs, joints and lungs; Drug Induced Lupus is caused when certain drugs create lupus-like symptoms. Women represent 90% of the people diagnosed with Lupus and minority women are diagnosed with Lupus at three times the rate of Caucasians. Lupus can strike at any age and many people look perfectly healthy. Discoid lupus can turn into systemic lupus in about 10% of cases. Systemic lupus cannot be reversed where as drug induced lupus can once the medication is discontinued. Drug induced lupus does not have central nervous system or kidney involvement.

Signs and symptoms of Lupus:
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Persistent weakness
  • Aching all over
  • Fever, which may be low grade to high
  • Loss of appetite
  • Involuntary weight loss
  • Hair loss
  • Nose bleeds
  • Mouth sores
  • Skin rash anywhere on the body
  • Hives
  • Sores
  • Painful & swollen joints (arthritis)
  • Stiffness of the joints when waking up
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Recurring or persistent abdominal pain
  • Swelling of the feet and legs
  • Puffy eyelids
  • Blood in the urine
  • Swollen glands
  • Headaches
Medications that have been proven to induce drug related lupus are:
  • Procainamide (used for heart rhythm abnormalities)
  • Hydralazine (used for high blood pressure)
  • Isoniazid (used for tuberculosis)
  • Quinidine (used for heart rhythm abnormalities)
  • Phenytoin (used for seizures)
1. Lupus is difficult to diagnose and can imitate other diseases. When discussing the possibilities with a doctor (preferably a rhuematologist) have him/her take some of these commonly used tests:

2. Anti nuclear test is used to determine if autoantibodies to cell nuclei are in the blood.

3. Anti-DNA test is used to determine if there are antibodies in the genetic material in the cell

4. Anti-Sm antibody test determines if there are antibodies to SM, which is a protein found in the cell nucleus

5. Detection for the presence of immune complexes in blood

6. Test to determine the level of serum complement, a group of proteins, which can occur in immune reactions

7. LE cell prep is an examination of the blood to look for a certain kind of cell, which can occur in immune reactions and other tests to check the level of C4 and C4 proteins.

It is incredibly important to not only catch lupus in its early stages but to align ourselves with good physicians and the latest developments surrounding this disease. Because this disease mimics so many others and there are so many symptoms involved, doctors tend to brush away our complaints. Know your body, know what hurts when and learn the value of research.

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