Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal, healthy tissue. This results in symptoms such as inflammation, swelling, and damage to joints, skin, kidneys, blood, the heart, and lungs.
Under normal function, the immune system makes proteins called antibodies in order to protect and fight against antigens such as viruses and bacteria.
Lupus makes the immune system unable to differentiate between antigens (a substance capable of inducing a specific immune response) and healthy tissue. This leads the immune system to direct antibodies against the healthy tissue - not just antigens - causing swelling, pain, and tissue damage.
Any part of the body can be affected by lupus as it has an array of clinical manifestations affecting the skin, joints, brain, lungs, kidneys, blood vessels and other internal organs
Anyone can get lupus. About 9 out of 10 adults with lupus are women ages 15 to 45. African-American women are three times more likely to get lupus than white women. Lupus is also more common in Latina, Asian, and Native American women. Men are at a higher risk before puberty and after age 50. Despite an increase in lupus in men in these age groups, two-thirds of the people who have lupus before puberty and after age 50 are women.
African-Americans and Latinos tend to get lupus at a younger age and have more severe symptoms, including kidney problems. African-Americans with lupus have more problems with seizures, strokes, and dangerous swelling of the heart muscle. Latina patients have more heart problems as well. Scientists believe that genes play a role in how lupus affects these ethnic groups.
The cause of lupus is not known. It's not a disease you can catch from another person. Researchers are looking at these factors:
•Environment (sunlight, stress, smoking, certain medications, and viruses might trigger symptoms in people who are prone to getting lupus)
•Hormones such as estrogen (lupus is more common in women during childbearing years)
•Problems with the immune system
•Genes play an important role, but are not the only reason a person will get lupus. Even someone who has one or more of the genes associated with lupus has a small chance of actually getting the disease. And only 10 percent of people with lupus have a parent or sibling who also has it.
The signs of lupus differ from person to person. Some people have just a few symptoms; others have more. Lupus symptoms also tend to come and go. Lupus is a disease of flares (the symptoms worsen and you feel ill) and remissions (the symptoms improve and you feel better).
Common signs of lupus are:
•Joint pain and stiffness, with or without swelling
•Muscle aches, pains, or weakness
•Fever with no known cause
•Feeling very tired
•Butterfly-shaped rash across the nose and cheeks
•Other skin rashes
•Unusual weight loss or weight gain
•Anemia (uh-NEE-me-uh) (too few red blood cells)
•Trouble thinking, memory problems, confusion
•Kidney problems with no known cause
•Chest pain when taking a deep breath
•Sun or light sensitivity
•Purple or pale fingers or toes from cold or stress
Less common symptoms include:
•Sores in the mouth or nose (usually painless)
•"Seeing things", not able to judge reality
•Dry or irritated eyes
Many men and women live long, productive lives with lupus. However, it can be fatal for some people. It depends on the severity of illness, how the body responds to treatments, and other factors. Infections are the leading cause of death in people with lupus. Studies show that people with lupus are living longer lives compared to decades past.
There is no cure for lupus, and treating lupus can be a challenge. However, treatment for lupus has improved a great deal. Treatment depends on the type of symptoms you have and how serious they are. Patients with muscle or joint pain, fatigue, rashes and other problems that are not dangerous can receive “conservative” treatment.
Common treatment options include:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs decrease swelling, pain and fever. These drugs include ibuprofen (brand names Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve). Some of these NSAIDs can cause serious side effects like stomach bleeding or kidney damage. Always check with your doctor before taking any medications that are over the counter (without a prescription) for your lupus.
Antimalarial drugs: Patients with lupus also may receive an antimalarial medication such as hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil). Though these drugs prevent and treat malaria, they also help relieve some lupus symptoms, such as fatigue, rashes, joint pain or mouth sores. They also may help prevent abnormal blood clotting.
Corticosteroids and immune suppressants: Patients with serious or life-threatening problems such as kidney inflammation, lung or heart involvement, and central nervous system symptoms need more “aggressive” (stronger) treatment. This may include high-dose corticosteroids such as prednisone (Deltasone and others) and drugs that suppress the immune system. Immune suppressants include azathioprine (Imuran), cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) and cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune). Recently mycophenolate mofetil has been used to treat severe kidney disease in lupus – referred to as lupus nephritis.