Lupus Erythematosus

Lupus erythematosus or simply lupus is a term given to a group of autoimmune diseases, which occur due to confusion of our immune system which keeps attacking body’s own tissues. Lupus can occur in different body systems, like joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood cells and skin.

Types

Lupus occurs as a systemic disease (affecting various body organs) or in a cutaneous form (affecting skin and its parts). The later is called incomplete lupus erythematosus. Lupus has four main types, viz. systemic, drug-induced, neonatal and discoid. Amongst these, systemic lupus is the commonest and most dangerous form.

Causes

It is not yet known exactly what causes lupus; however genetic and environmental factors are considered to be major triggering factors. Women are found nine times more than men suffering from lupus and the age range is 15 to 45. Exposure to sunlight (especially ultraviolet light) and certain chemicals, infection with Epstein-Barr virus and some prescription drugs may also be triggering factors. Severe stress and smoking are some more risk factors.

Symptoms

Symptoms of lupus differ from person to person and may not be continual. They may even be permanent. Joint pain and swelling are the commonest symptoms. Some patients develop arthritis. The commonly affected joints are hands, wrists, fingers and knees. The symptoms depend on the body system which has been affected. The commonest symptoms include joint pain, rigidity and swelling, a butterfly-shaped rash on face, fatigue, fever, skin lesions after exposure to sun, fingers turning blue or white when exposed to cold or stressful situations, chest pain, dry eyes, shortness of breath, and headache, memory loss or confusion. Photosensitivity is also a common symptom of lupus, but its relation with the disease is not yet clear. Causes of photosensitivity may include changes in autoantibody location, ultraviolet-generated antigenic DNA and many others. Tumor necrosis factor alpha is also considered to be one of the causative factors for photosensitivity in lupus.

Diagnosis

Lupus is difficult to diagnose because of the similarity of its symptoms to many other conditions. The most typical sign of lupus is perhaps a facial rash that looks like the wings of a butterfly spread on both cheeks. This occurs in many, though not all cases. Some patients are born with a vulnerability to develop lupus, and it may be triggered by infections or some drugs or even by sunlight. Lupus Erythematosus Though lupus is incurable, the symptoms can be alleviated by treatment.

Treatment

Though lupus is not yet curable, a number of new medicines are under trial. Till their establishment, early diagnosis and treatment is the only way to control the disease. Minimizing symptoms, decreasing pain and inflammation, trying to help maintaining normal functions and keeping away serious complications are ways to treat lupus effectively. As the disease show different manifestations in every patient, treatment is usually tailored to cure specific problems of that patient. Medicines and their dosage patterns also vary significantly based on the severity of the disease. For mild to moderate condition, common medicines prescribed are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium, antimalarial drugs like hydroxychloroquine, and corticosteroids.

Living with Lupus

Though lupus is incurable, it is possible to live comfortably with it if the patients implement some measures and the relatives offer a helping hand. Using sunscreen with SPF, nutritious and balanced diet, management of pain with mild heat like hot tub or Jacuzzi, low-impact exercises, ample rest to keep away from fatigue, etc are some ways to live with lupus.