We recently shared information with you regarding an autoimmune disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis. This issue, we’ll feature another autoimmune disease. However, instead of targeting bone joints, this disease targets any and all parts of the body. Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that can damage skin, joints, and/or organs inside the body.
In lupus, something goes wrong with your immune system, which is the part of the body that fights off viruses, bacteria, and germs. Normally our immune system produces proteins called antibodies that protect the body from these invaders. Autoimmune means your immune system cannot tell the difference between these foreign invaders and your body’s healthy tissues and creates autoantibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue. These autoantibodies cause inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body.
A wide range of symptoms can occur with lupus and they can appear over several weeks or months.
- Extreme fatigue
- Painful or swollen joints
- Anemia (low numbers of red blood cells or hemoglobin, or low total blood volume)
- Swelling in feet, legs, hands, and/or around eyes
- Pain in chest on deep breathing
- Butterfly-shaped rash across cheeks and nose
- Sun- or light-sensitivity
- Hair loss
- Abnormal blood clotting
- Fingers turning white and/or blue when cold
- Mouth or nose ulcers
These symptoms are common in both men and women, though 90% of people diagnosed with lupus are women. Many times, lupus is misdiagnosed since its symptoms are common to other illnesses such as RA, fibromyalgia, diabetes, Lyme disease, to name a few.
Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are so common with other diseases, More than half of those afflicted with lupus suffered at least four years, and saw three or more doctors before obtaining a correct diagnosis. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single blood test to diagnose lupus. If you notice signs or symptoms of lupus, be sure to engage your doctor and ask questions. Early diagnosis is crucial to preventing long-term consequences of the disease.
- An estimated 1.5 million Americans have lupus.
- No two cases of lupus are alike. Common symptoms include joint pain, skin rashes, overwhelming fatigue and fevers that last for days or weeks.
- Most people with lupus don’t look sick.
- Lupus can impact any organ or tissue, from the skin or joints to the heart or kidneys.
- Two leading causes of serious illness and death from lupus are kidney disease and heart disease.
- Lupus usually develops between ages 15 and 44 and it lasts a lifetime.
- Lupus is two to three times more frequent among African Americans, Asians, Hispanics/Latinos, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans than among Caucasians.
While the causes of lupus are unknown, scientists believe hormones, genetics (heredity) and environmental factors are factors.
Lupus symptoms vary from one person to another. Work closely with your doctor and let her know about all of your symptoms so they can tailor the best treatment to your specific condition.
Medications ranging in strength from mild to strong can be prescribed for your needs. It can take months and sometimes years before the right combination of medications is found to help keep your lupus symptoms under control.
There are many categories of drugs physicians use to treat lupus. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved only a few specifically for lupus, which include:
Corticosteroids, including prednisone, prednisolone, methylprednisolone, and hydrocortisone
Antimalarials, such as hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil®) and chloroquine
The monoclonal antibody belimumab (Benlysta®)
Acthar (repository corticotropin injection), which contains a naturally occurring hormone called ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone)
Lupus can be expensive to live with and treat. The average annual direct and indirect costs incurred by a person with lupus can exceed $21,000 annually, a higher cost per patient than those living with heart disease, bipolar disorder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, hypertension and asthma.
If you are experiencing any of the above listed symptoms over the course of more than a couple of weeks, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Keeping a list of symptoms and how long you’ve had them can also help provide insight for your treatment. Also let them know of other medications that you are taking and talk with your pharmacist to make sure there are no harmful drug interactions.