What is Lupus?

The normal function of the immune system is to protect and fight off viruses, bacteria and germs by producing proteins called antibodies that are produced by white blood cells (B lymphocytes).

Lupus is an autoimmune disease which is a disease in which the immune system attacks healthy tissues in the body causing a wide range of health issues. The inflammation that occurs with lupus and the attacks on healthy tissue can affect the skin, hair, brain, joints, organs, and blood vessels. Because symptoms can come and go, many people don’t realize they have an autoimmune response happening. Rather they may think they are simply sick with a virus, or they may have been diagnosed with some other health issue since lupus symptoms mimic those of other diseases.

According to the National Resource Center on Lupus, “The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that 1.5 million Americans, and at least five million people worldwide, have a form of lupus.” In addition, lupus is much more common in women and is a disease of the young, generally affecting people ages 15-44. It is also more common in certain populations such as African Americans, Asians, Hispanics/Latinos, Native Americans, Native Alaskans, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders.

It is important to note that lupus is not a contagious disease.

There are several kinds of lupus:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common type. It can be mild or severe, and can affect many parts of the body.
  • Discoid lupus causes a red rash that doesn’t go away
  • Subacute cutaneous lupus causes sores after being out in the sun
  • Drug-induced lupus is caused by certain medicines. It usually goes away when you stop taking the medicine.
  • Neonatal lupus, which is rare, affects newborns. It is probably caused by certain antibodies from the mother.

Lupus Disease Symptoms

Lupus disease symptoms can vary from person to person. Symptoms may come and go. When you are having symptoms, it is called a flare. Flares can range from mild to severe. New symptoms may appear at any time.  Common symptoms are:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling
  • Unexplained fever
  • Facial rash presenting in the shape of a butterfly over the cheeks and nose
  • Hair loss
  • Kidney problems
  • Lung problems
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Thyroid issues
  • Skin lesions
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Dry eyes and mouth
  • Brain fog
  • Headaches
  • Memory issues
  • Muscle pain
  • Pale or purple fingers or toes
  • Sensitivity to the sun
  • Swelling in legs or around eyes
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Swollen glands

As you can see by looking at this list, it would be easy to misdiagnose a person with some of the symptoms listed. For example, some of these issues occur with chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. Others are common with diabetes or arthritis.

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What causes Lupus?

The medical community at large does not know the causes of lupus. Some claim it has to do with exposure to the sun, infections, or medications a person takes. Others say it is related to genetics and environmental factors.

There are multifaceted reasons the body develops an autoimmune disease like lupus. We know for example that most disease is caused by one or a combination of these three things:

  • Deficiency: The body needs something.
  • Toxicity: The body has something in it that it shouldn’t have.
  • Allergy: The body is allergic to something.

An autoimmune disease like lupus can develop when there are proteins that are coming into the body that it thinks are foreign.

Also, lupus may be caused by leaky gut syndrome, where the lining of the intestine is damaged and food proteins and toxins get into the bloodstream. Because these substances are not supposed to be in the blood, the immune system reacts by attacking them, which creates collateral damage in surrounding tissues and organs. The intestinal wall can be damaged by:

  • Food allergies
  • Parasites
  • Bacterial infections
  • Viruses
  • Yeast overgrowth (Candidiasis)
  • Overuse of antibiotics
  • Environmental toxins
  • Heavy metals

How do I know if I have lupus?

There is no single test to diagnose lupus, and it’s often mistaken for other diseases. So it may take months or years for a doctor to diagnose it. Your doctor may use many tools to make a diagnosis:

  • Medical history
  • Complete exam
  • Blood tests
  • Skin biopsy (looking at skin samples under a microscope)
  • Kidney biopsy (looking at tissue from your kidney under a microscope)

What are the treatments for lupus?

There is no cure for lupus, but medicines and lifestyle changes can help control it.

People with lupus often need to see different doctors. You will have a primary care doctor and a rheumatologist (a doctor who specializes in the diseases of joints and muscles). Which other specialists you see depends on how lupus affects your body.

Your primary care doctor should coordinate care between your different health care providers and treat other problems as they come up. Your doctor will develop a treatment plan to fit your needs. You and your doctor should review the plan often to be sure it is working. You should report new symptoms to your doctor right away so that your treatment plan can be changed if needed.

The goals of the treatment plan are to:

  • Prevent flares
  • Treat flares when they occur
  • Reduce organ damage and other problems

Treatments may include drugs to:

  • Reduce swelling and pain
  • Prevent or reduce flares
  • Help the immune system
  • Reduce or prevent damage to joints
  • Balance the hormones

Besides taking medicines for lupus, you may need to take medicines for problems that are related to lupus such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or infection.

Some alternative or complementary approaches may help you cope or reduce some of the stress associated with living with a chronic illness. You should talk to your doctor before trying any alternative treatments.