Nearly 16,000 new cases are reported each year, and it is estimated that five million people worldwide suffer from the autoimmune disease. Keep reading to find out more about lupus, how it is diagnosed and treated, and current research bettering the lives of people with lupus.
What is lupus?
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease which affects the skin, joints, and organs by weakening the immune system. Healthy immune systems produce antibodies to protect the body against viruses, bacteria, and germs. In an individual with lupus, the immune system is unable to distinguish between these invaders. As a result it creates autoantibodies which then attack healthy body tissue.
Lupus can be mild or life threatening, but with doctor’s help those affected by lupus can manage the disease and live a full life. Lupus can affect people of all ethnicities and genders, but is more common among women aged 15-44 and women of color. If you fall within this range and are experiencing the symptoms of lupus, you may want to talk to your doctor. As a chronic disease, it can be present for months or sometimes years.
When people hear lupus is an autoimmune disease, this conjures up many false images and attitudes. There are many things lupus is not. Lupus is not cancer, though certain chemotherapy treatments are sometimes used in treating lupus. It is not contagious, and it it is not related to HIV or AIDS, which occur when the immune system is underactive (rather than overactive). It is not possible for you to catch lupus from other people, or through sexual contact.
How is it diagnosed?
There is not one surefire way to diagnose lupus, so doctors rely on a variety of diagnostics. Generally they examine a patient’s symptoms, lab results, medical history, and family medical history before determining if a patient has lupus. Often the symptoms of lupus mimic the symptoms of other illnesses, which can make the disease difficult to diagnose.
Doctors often look for signs of inflammation like pain, heat, and redness in their initial diagnostics. There are several types of lab tests physicians can do in order to determine the likelihood of lupus. The most common is called a Antinuclear antibody (ANA) Test. Other tests include blood tests, clotting tests, urine tests, and biopsies.
Additional indicators of lupus are a rash over your cheeks and nose, anemia, sensitivity to light, and mouth ulcers. You should always consult your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms, as they may indicate lupus or other diseases.
How is lupus treated?
If you have been diagnosed with lupus, you will want to visit a doctor who specializes in muscle and joint diseases, known a a rheumatologist. If you have specific organ damage you may need to consult other specialists as well such as a dermatologist or a cardiologist.
Lupus treatment can be personalized depending on the care you need. In addition to doctors, there are several types of medications that can be helpful in managing lupus. These include:
- Belimumab (a monoclonal antibody)
- Acthar (contains naturally occurring hormones)
Lupus treatment aims at reducing inflammation, managing fatigue, an surpassing the immune system. It also aims at preventing flare-ups and minimizing and repairing organ damage. Symptoms of damaged organs may be treated with diuretics, anticonvulsants, anti hypertension drugs, and bone strengtheners.
What research is going into finding a cure?
Scientists continue to research lupus to find better treatments and understand the causes of the disease. Currently researchers are looking into using the malaria treatment drug hydrochloroquine to treat lupus symptoms. It it believed that this drug can prevent organ damage and flare ups.
Studies are also examining the reasons lupus is more common in women than men, speculating that the disease is caused by a combination of environmental factors and genetics, as women have different hormones than men.
Additionally researchers are looking at the quality of people diagnosed with lupus, examining links between depression and heart disease, drug interactions, and developing testing technology to aid in speedy diagnosis. This research is vital to improving the way we understand lupus.
To summarize, lupus is an autoimmune disease which affects many people, especially women, when autoantibodies produced by the immune system attack body tissues. While lupus can be serious, individualized treatment can help you manage the disease, and every day scientists are working to discover more about lupus.