Lupus is an incredibly complex autoimmune disease and diagnosing lupus can take a lot of time and many doctor visits. Patients will often get diagnosed with other “overlap” diseases such as rheumadoid arthritis (RA), Sjogren’s Syndrome, scleroderma, fibromyalgia or Raynaud’s Phenomenon even before a diagnosis of lupus is made. This can be incredibly frustrating for you as well as your doctors. Understanding the process of getting a lupus diagnosis is one of the most common questions we get here as well as a main topic in the discussions on our Facebook page and our other social media platforms. The goal of this blog is to give a clear understanding of the diagnosis process and provide the tools needed to go back to your doctor (or a new doctor) armed with the information you need.
Arthritis is inflammation of one or more joints and it involves the breakdown of cartilage. Cartilage normally protects a joint, allowing it to move smoothly. Cartilage also absorbs shock when pressure is placed on the joint, such as when you walk. Without the normal amount of cartilage, the bones rub together, causing pain, swelling (inflammation), and stiffness. Usually the joint inflammation goes away after the cause goes away or is treated. Sometimes it does not. When this happens, you have chronic arthritis. Arthritis may occur in men or women. Osteoarthritis is the most common type.
Angiogenesis is the growth of blood vessels from the existing vasculature. It occurs throughout life in both health and disease, beginning in utero and continuing on through old age. No metabolically active tissue in the body is more than a few hundred micrometers from a blood capillary, which is formed by the process of angiogenesis. Capillaries are needed in all tissues for diffusion exchange of nutrients and metabolites. Changes in metabolic activity lead to proportional changes in angiogenesis and, hence, proportional changes in capillarity. Oxygen plays a pivotal role in this regulation. Hemodynamic factors are critical for survival of vascular networks and for structural adaptations of vessel walls.
In more severe cases, medications that modulate the immune system (primarily corticosteroids and immunosuppressants) are used to control the disease and prevent recurrence of symptoms (known as flares). Depending on the dosage, people who require steroids may develop Cushing's syndrome, symptoms of which may include obesity, puffy round face, diabetes mellitus, increased appetite, difficulty sleeping and osteoporosis. These may subside if and when the large initial dosage is reduced, but long-term use of even low doses can cause elevated blood pressure and cataracts.
Mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD) is a autoimmune disorder that causes overlapping features of three connective tissue disorders: lupus, scleroderma, and polymyositis. MCTD may also have features of rheumatoid arthritis. This condition is most often diagnosed in women in their 20’s and 30’s. Occasionally, children are affected. At this time the cause of this condition is unknown.
Lupus is chronic, complex, and difficult to diagnose. No single lab test can tell if you have lupus. Many lupus symptoms imitate symptoms of other diseases and often come and go. Your primary care doctor or rheumatologist will use your medical history, a physical exam, and many routine as well as special tests to rule out other diseases. Many physicians also use the American College of Rheumatology's "Eleven Criteria of Lupus" to aid in the diagnosis of lupus. The criteria include symptoms as well as specific laboratory findings that provide information about the functioning of a person's immune system. In most cases, the diagnosis of lupus is made when four or more of the criteria have occurred at some time.
One food to avoid is alfalfa sprouts. Alfalfa tablets have been associated with lupus flares or a lupus-like syndrome that includes muscle pain, fatigue, abnormal blood test results, and kidney problems. These problems may be due to a reaction to an amino acid found in alfalfa sprouts and seeds. This amino acid can activate the immune system and increase inflammation in people with lupus. Garlic may also stimulate the immune system.
Many people living with lupus are photosensitive or sensitive to the sun and fluorescent lights. It is recommended that all people living with lupus wear sunscreen. Sunscreens, greater than SPF 30, are vital in protecting patients from UVA and UVB rays which provoke skin rashes, lesions and other lupus disease activity. Patients should also avoid excess sun exposure by wearing sunscreen, wide-brim hats, avoid sunlight during peak hours of UV exposure (10:00 am - 2:00 pm) and wear tightly woven clothing.
Chronic cutaneous (discoid lupus): In discoid lupus, the most common form of chronic cutaneous lupus, inflammatory sores develop on your face, ears, scalp, and on other body areas. These lesions can be crusty or scaly and often scar. They usually don't hurt or itch. Some patients report lesions and scarring on the scalp, making hair re-growth impossible in those areas. Most people with discoid lupus do not have SLE. In fact, discoid lupus is more common in men than in women.
There is no single diagnostic test for systemic lupus. The test you will hear most about is called the antinuclear antibody (ANA) test. This is not a specific test for lupus, however. In fact, a variety of laboratory tests are used to detect physical changes or conditions in your body that can occur with lupus. Each test result adds more information to the picture your doctor is forming of your illness.
The clearance of early apoptotic cells is an important function in multicellular organisms. It leads to a progression of the apoptosis process and finally to secondary necrosis of the cells if this ability is disturbed. Necrotic cells release nuclear fragments as potential autoantigens, as well as internal danger signals, inducing maturation of dendritic cells (DCs), since they have lost their membranes' integrity. Increased appearance of apoptotic cells also stimulates inefficient clearance. That leads to maturation of DCs and also to the presentation of intracellular antigens of late apoptotic or secondary necrotic cells, via MHC molecules. Autoimmunity possibly results by the extended exposure to nuclear and intracellular autoantigens derived from late apoptotic and secondary necrotic cells. B and T cell tolerance for apoptotic cells is abrogated, and the lymphocytes get activated by these autoantigens; inflammation and the production of autoantibodies by plasma cells is initiated. A clearance deficiency in the skin for apoptotic cells has also been observed in people with cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE).
If you have osteoporosis or osteopenia, your doctor will most likely recommend that you take calcium and vitamin D supplements in addition to your regular bone medications, since vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium. It is important that you also try to eat foods rich in calcium, such as milk, light ice cream/frozen yogurt, cottage cheese, pudding, almonds, broccoli, fortified cereal, oranges, yogurt, hard cheese, soybeans and soymilk, navy beans, oysters, sardines, and spinach. These foods will help to keep your bones as healthy and strong as possible.
A substance (generally a protein, polypeptide, or peptide) that stimulates the differentiation, division, development, and maintenance of cells and the tissues they make up. Growth factors are signaling molecules released by certain groups of cells, e.g., lymphocytes, to influence the activities of other cells. Growth factors can be divided into families, e.g., platelet-derived GFs, transforming GFs, and angiogenic GFs. They are released normally during fetal and embryonic development, wound healing, and tissue maturation. Massive releases of GFs are characteristic of some types of cancer cells. Artificial GFs, e.g., granulocyte colony-stimulating factor, are used in health care to restore depressed levels of cells to normal values, e.g., in patients who have received chemotherapy.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) has been helpful in reducing fatigue, improving thinking difficulties, and improving quality of life in people with SLE. Recent research indicates that DHEA diet supplementation has been shown to improve or stabilize signs and symptoms of SLE. DHEA is commonly available in health-food stores, pharmacies, and many groceries.
In 2007, the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) released recommendations for the treatment of SLE.  In patients with SLE without major organ manifestations, glucocorticoids and antimalarial agents may be beneficial.  NSAIDs may be used for short periods in patients at low risk for complications from these drugs. Consider immunosuppressive agents (eg, azathioprine, mycophenolate mofetil, methotrexate) in refractory cases or when steroid doses cannot be reduced to levels for long-term use. 
One main type of lupus, cutaneous lupus erythematosus, is limited to skin symptoms, including a rash and lesions. That means people with cutaneous lupus, which does not progress and become systemic lupus erythematosus, only experience skin symptoms. People with cutaneous lupus most commonly develop a discoid rash. It appears as round, raised, red patches and can cause scarring, Dr. Caricchio explains. “It’s often confined to small areas above the neck, such as the ears and scalp,” he says. The rash usually does not itch or cause discomfort.
It’s been found that low levels of vitamin D might be associated with increased risk of autoimmune conditions and other chronic diseases, according to a report published in the International Journal of Rheumatology. (8) If you don’t spend much time outdoors, especially during the winter, talk to your doctor about taking a supplement to prevent vitamin D deficiency.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the body’s own healthy tissue and organs. Depending on the specific patient, lupus can cause high levels of persistent inflammation that can negatively affect various parts of the body. Lupus patients often experience tissue damage that affects the heart, joints, brain, kidneys, lungs and endocrine glands (such as the adrenals and thyroid gland). Although it’s not completely known why this happens, lupus risk factors are believed to include: (2)
Decorin is a protein coded for by the DCN gene. This protein is a component of the extracellular matrix, which is the intricate lattice of proteins and other molecules that forms in the spaces between cells. Decorin is found in the extracellular matrix of a variety of connective tissues, including skin, tendon, bone, and cartilage. Connective tissues support the body’s joints and organs. Decorin is involved in the organization of proteins called collagens. Collagens strengthen and support connective tissues throughout the body. Collagens also play an important role in the cornea, which is the clear outer covering of the eye. Bundles of collagen called fibrils must be strictly organized for the cornea to be transparent. Decorin ensures that these collagen fibrils are uniformly sized and regularly spaced.
Autoreactive B cells can accidentally emerge during somatic hypermutation and migrate into the germinal center light zone. Autoreactive B cells, maturated coincidentally, normally do not receive survival signals by antigen planted on follicular dendritic cells and perish by apoptosis. In the case of clearance deficiency, apoptotic nuclear debris accumulates in the light zone of GC and gets attached to FDC. This serves as a germinal centre survival signal for autoreactive B-cells. After migration into the mantle zone, autoreactive B cells require further survival signals from autoreactive helper T cells, which promote the maturation of autoantibody-producing plasma cells and B memory cells. In the presence of autoreactive T cells, a chronic autoimmune disease may be the consequence.
Not all fats are unhealthy. Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats are the healthier fats compared to saturated fats. Some of these fats are high in anti-inflammatory properties and have a rich source of Vitamin E. Foods that contain unsaturated fats include; nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, soybean oil, and canola oil. It is important to understand that these fats are still high in calories - therefore, portions should be monitored. These fats, however, are preferred over saturated fats.
The rate of SLE varies between countries, ethnicity, and sex, and changes over time. In the United States, one estimate of the rate of SLE is 53 per 100,000; other estimates range from 322,000 to over 1 million. In Northern Europe the rate is about 40 per 100,000 people. SLE occurs more frequently and with greater severity among those of non-European descent. That rate has been found to be as high as 159 per 100,000 among those of Afro-Caribbean descent. Childhood-onset systemic lupus erythematosus generally presents between the ages of 3 and 15 and is four times more common in girls.
Many people with lupus will have some form of a rash, says Roberto Caricchio, MD, the interim section chief of rheumatology at Temple University Hospital and director of the Temple Lupus Clinic in Philadelphia. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, as many as two-thirds of people with lupus experience a skin rash, and estimates suggest that between 40 and 70 percent of people with lupus will notice that their symptoms get worse in the sun or some types of artificial light. (2)
A general, imprecise, colloquial, and somewhat old-fashioned term for acute and chronic conditions marked by inflammation, muscle soreness and stiffness, and pain in joints and associated structures. It includes inflammatory arthritis (infectious, rheumatoid, gouty), arthritis due to rheumatic fever or trauma, degenerative joint disease, neurogenic arthropathy, hydroarthrosis, myositis, bursitis, and fibromyalgia.
Opportunistic infections can develop, most often in patients receiving chronic immunosuppressive therapy. Another less-common complication is osteonecrosis, especially of the hips and knees after prolonged high-dose corticosteroid usage. More commonly, premature atherosclerotic disease and myocardial infarction are indolent complications of chronic inflammation and steroids.
Mortality rates for systemic lupus erythematosus are particularly high in children. In a retrospective study26 of Brazilian children, overall mortality during 16 years of follow-up was 24 percent. Death occurred because of infection (58 percent), central nervous system disease (36 percent), and renal disease (7 percent). When disease onset was before the age of 15 years, renal involvement and hypertension predicted mortality.
Lupus disease, especially when active, could lead to accelerated atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries) which can develop in young women and could also lead to heart attacks, heart failure, and strokes. Thus, it is vital that patients with lupus, in addition to controlling their disease, exercise and lower other risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
While most infants born to mothers who have SLE are healthy, pregnant mothers with SLE should remain under medical care until delivery. Neonatal lupus is rare, but identification of mothers at highest risk for complications allows for prompt treatment before or after birth. In addition, SLE can flare up during pregnancy, and proper treatment can maintain the health of the mother longer. Women pregnant and known to have anti-Ro (SSA) or anti-La antibodies (SSB) often have echocardiograms during the 16th and 30th weeks of pregnancy to monitor the health of the heart and surrounding vasculature.
When the kidneys or central nervous systems are affected immunosuppressive drugs such as cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) and mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept) may be used. These drugs restrain the overactive immune system by blocking production of immune cells. Side effects may include nausea, vomiting, hair loss, bladder problems, decreased fertility, and increased risk of cancer and infection. The risks increase with the length of treatment.
Subacute cutaneous: The skin symptoms of subacute cutaneous lupus are usually mild. People with this condition, which is also its own form of lupus, present with reddish-purple plaques, which are firm and raised, flattened skin lesions. These plaques can be found alone or in groups and range in size from 5 mm to 20 mm, usually appearing on the trunk, including the upper chest and back. About 10 percent of people with SLE have subacute cutaneous lupus. Certain drugs may also cause subacute cutaneous lupus.
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