Lupus erythematosus is a disease that typically affects the skin and joints. It can, however, also harm the heart, kidneys and nervous system. It is classified as an autoimmune disease which means that in addition to attacking unwanted germs, the cells responsible for defending the body attack otherwise healthy tissue. The result is the self-destruction of tissue and organs. Women between the ages of 18 and 40 years are most at risk for developing this disease.
Lupus erythematosus is a chronic inflammatory disease characterized by periods of illness (flares) alternating with periods of dormancy (remission). Flares and remissions can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks or months.
The exact cause of the disease remains unknown. There is however, a genetic component associated with the risk of developing the disease. Therefore, anyone with a family history of lupus is more at risk than others of developing lupus erythematosus. Certain factors may also trigger symptoms, including: sun, stress, certain medications, viral infections, pregnancy.
The symptoms associated with lupus are many and quite diverse. Not all lupus sufferers experience the same symptoms and the symptoms themselves may vary from one flare to the next. The most common symptoms are:
- chest pain
- hair loss
- joint inflammation
- joint pain
- joint stiffness
- loss of appetite
- rash over nose and cheeks
- Raynaud's syndrome (poor circulation to the fingers and toes with cold exposure)
- sensitivity to sunlight
- unexplainable fatigue
- weight loss
Lupus can affect one or several organs. As a result, other symptoms can develop, increasing the severity of the disease. For example, if the kidneys are involved, kidney failure can occur. If the heart is affected, heart failure or arrhythmia could develop. And, if the nervous system is harmed, memory can be affected which could also lead to depression.
Lupus erythematosus is diagnosed by a physician. In addition to asking the patient about his or her medical history, the physician will conduct a physical examination. Blood tests and kidney function tests may also prove useful. Radiographies or magnetic resonance imaging may also be recommended to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment and Prevention
Lupus erythematosus is a disease for which there is no cure. It can, however, be managed through a combination of drugs. Taking over the counter or prescription analgesics, for those who need more relief, can help alleviate the pain. Antimalarial drugs are also useful in treating fever, fatigue, joint pain and rashes. Corticoid, applied locally or taken in a pill form, can be added to these treatments to manage skin lesions.
In more serious cases, the physician can prescribe corticoids orally to reduce inflammation and increase appetite and energy. These drugs however, can cause several side effects that should be taken seriously. Immunosuppressive agents are sometimes used to prevent the immune system from attacking the organs.
If you are living with lupus, here are a few tips to help you cope better and to help prevent flares:
- Eat healthy, well balanced meals.
- Exercise moderately on a regular basis.
- Rest whenever you feel the need.
- Learn how to manage your stress. Learning about relaxation techniques can prove beneficial.
- Avoid sun exposure and protect your skin from UV rays by wearing a hat, sunglasses and by applying sunscreen.
- Do not take any medication, with or without prescription, without first talking to your doctor or pharmacist.
- Have your pressure taken every three months.
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