Lupus, or the full term systemic lupus erythematosus, was brought to the public’s attention when it was publicized in social media. It is more widespread than leukemia, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis. It has symptoms that are similar to other conditions and the public should be made more aware in order for unknown sufferers to get an earlier diagnosis.
What is lupus?
It is the inflammation to the joints, skin and other organs and is a long term condition. Lupus is unfortunately incurable at the moment but early treatment could help relieve symptoms.
What are the symptoms?
Usually lupus symptoms are joint pains, butterfly-shaped skin rashes over the nose and cheeks and extreme tiredness even though you have rested well. Other less common symptoms include weight loss, swollen glands, light sensitivity which causes rashes on exposed skin and also bad circulation to fingers and toes which results in a cold and numb sensation. Lupus is dangerous as it may affect various body parts especially when internal organs are involved like the heart, brain, kidney or lungs. Most patients will have only one or some of the symptoms which comes and goes.
Sometimes the disease flares up and becomes worse over a few weeks or longer, and then symptoms might settle down again. The reason for this relapse and remission is not known yet.
Who is likely to have it?
According to Arthritis Research UK, lupus is nine times more likely to develop in women than men. It is more common in Chinese, African or Caribbean origin. It mostly affects the younger population as there are only 1 out of 15 cases of it developing in patients over 50 years.
How is it diagnosed?
It is diagnosed through the presenting symptoms, a physical examination and blood tests. Tests are helpful in eliminating other medical conditions. Examples of blood tests are anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) test, anti-double-stranded DNA (anti-dsDNA) antibody test, anti-RO antibody test and others. Roughly 95% of people having lupus are ANA positive but some who do not have lupus are tested positive too so this test alone cannot confirm the diagnosis. About 70% of people with lupus have the anti-dsDNA antibodies and a positive result shows that it is very likely to be lupus as those without lupus are hardly ever positive.
What are the causes?
There are no known causes of lupus but there are a few triggers discovered from different researches. Lupus may be triggered during puberty, during menopause, through sunlight exposure, as an outcome of trauma, after giving birth, after a long term effect of certain medications or after a viral infection.
How is it treated?
Generally, lupus is treated with anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen for joint or muscle pain, hydroxychloroquine for tiredness and joint problems or steroids for kidney inflammation. A kidney transplant may be needed if the kidney is severely damaged. Immunosuppressant drugs are usually used in more severe conditions of lupus and the patient would need regular blood tests.
Research by Dr. Betty Diamond, a professor from The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York, has found that blood pressure medication could improve the cognitive and emotional difficulties of lupus. She will be using the money from a prize awarded to her as funds for a study to find if angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors reduce neuropsychiatric symptoms in mice. “Positive results in mice could lead to clinical trials of ACE inhibitors in patients with lupus,” said Dr. Diamond.
Living with lupus
Those who are newly diagnosed with lupus or starting medication may find it difficult to resume daily activities due to the symptoms and side effects, but it is not impossible. Patients should educate themselves more on the condition- there is really no other way. They should try to minimize and resolve feelings of stress, anger or depression; they should also let family, friends or work colleagues know the triggers so that they may be able to help in times of need. Lupus patients should avoid direct sunlight or fluorescent lights and pace daily activities to reduce fatigue. It may take time for them to get used to it, but it is important that they are able to improve their quality of life while responding to the difficulties of the illness.