Corticosteroids are more potent than NSAIDs in reducing inflammation and restoring function when the disease is active. Corticosteroids are particularly helpful when internal organs are affected. Corticosteroids can be given by mouth, injected directly into the joints and other tissues, or administered intravenously. Unfortunately, corticosteroids have serious side effects when given in high doses over prolonged periods, and the doctor will try to monitor the activity of the disease in order to use the lowest doses that are safe. Side effects of corticosteroids include weight gain, thinning of the bones and skin, infection, diabetes, facial puffiness, cataracts, and death (necrosis) of the tissues in large joints.
The following drugs are commonly used to treat the inflammation and symptoms of lupus. Since lupus manifests in different ways in different people, treatment regimens differ from patient to patient. In addition, one patient may experience several different treatment regimens during her/his lifetime. It is important that you understand the medications you are taking and the risks, benefits, and restrictions associated with them. Please remember to take your medications exactly as directed by your physician and to address any questions or concerns upon your next visit.
Get involved in your care. Learn as much as you can about lupus, your medications, and what kind of progress to expect. Take all your medications as your doctor prescribes, and visit your rheumatologist often to prevent serious problems. This lets your doctor keep track of your disease and change your treatment as needed. If you do not live near a rheumatologist, you may need to have your primary care doctor manage your lupus with the help of a rheumatologist.
Infections and diseases of the cardiovascular, renal, pulmonary, and central nervous systems are the most frequent causes of death in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus.8,23,32–37 Since the 1950s, the five-year survival rate for patients with systemic lupus erythematosus has increased from 50 percent to a range of 91 to 97 percent.8,23,32–34,38,39 It is not known how much of this increase in survival is due to improved management versus diagnosis of earlier and milder disease. Higher mortality rates are associated with seizures, lupus nephritis, and azotemia.36,37,40
In one study41 that used patients with connective tissue diseases as the control group, the revised ACR diagnostic criteria for systemic lupus erythematosus were found to have an overall sensitivity of 96 percent and a specificity of 96 percent. Other studies21,32,43 have reported sensitivities ranging from 78 to 96 percent and specificities ranging from 89 to 100 percent. The ACR criteria may be less accurate in patients with mild disease.21
Heart and Lungs. Heart and lung involvement often is caused by inflammation of the covering of the heart (pericardium) and lungs (pleura). When these structures become inflamed, patients may develop chest pain, irregular heartbeat, and accumulation of fluid around the lungs (pleuritis or pleurisy) and heart (pericarditis). The heart valves and the lung itself can also be affected by lupus, resulting in shortness of breath.
ANA = antinuclear antibody; CNS = central nervous system; ds-DNA = double-stranded DNA; ELISA = enzyme-linked immunoassay; ENA = extractable nuclear antigen; Ig = immunoglobulin; p-ANCA = perinuclear antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody; RBCs = red blood cells; RNP = ribonucleic protein; SLE = systemic lupus erythematosus; Sm = Smith; SSA = Sjögren syndrome A; SSB = Sjögren syndrome B.
A. A healthy, young patient of mine once asked me what the chances were that she might one day develop a "terrible disease." When I asked her what she meant by "terrible disease," she surprised me: she didn't say a disease that could be fatal, but rather a disease that could attack every part of her body. By that definition, systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus for short) is, indeed, a terrible disease.
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.
One food for people with lupus to avoid is alfalfa. Alfalfa tablets have been associated with reports of a lupus-like syndrome or lupus flares. The lupus-like effects may include muscle pain, fatigue, abnormal blood test results, changes in how the immune system functions, and kidney problems. These reactions may be due to the amino acid L-canavanine (found in alfalfa seeds and sprouts, but not in leaves), which can activate the immune system and increase inflammation.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
A. Lupus can vary from a moderately disabling disease to a life-threatening one. Because it can lead to cardiovascular disease, lupus can kill women in their 20s by causing heart attacks and strokes, Gilkeson said. People with lupus also can die at young ages due to infections that are related to the immune-suppressing drugs taken to control the disease. Although lupus doesn't make it harder to become pregnant, women with lupus are more likely to miscarry.
Cardiac tamponade is pressure on the heart that occurs when blood or fluid builds up in the space between the heart muscle (myocardium) and the outer covering sac of the heart (pericardium). This prevents the heart ventricles from expanding fully. The excess pressure from the fluid prevents the heart from working properly. As a result, the body does not get enough blood.
Systemic lupus erythematosus is a chronic, recurrent, potentially fatal multisystem inflammatory disorder that can be difficultto diagnose.1,2 The disease has no single diagnostic marker; instead, it is identified through a combination of clinical and laboratory criteria.3 Accurate diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus is important because treatment can reduce morbidity4–11 and mortality,12 particularly from lupus nephritis. This article reviews evidence-based recommendations for the diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus by primary care physicians.
“I have given up sugar (except natural sugars), all soft drinks, pasta, chocolate, takeaways, and most processed foods/snacks. I have experienced a marked difference in energy levels and severity of flares, plus I have lost almost three stone in a year. I eat a simple diet, increase fruits/veg and I have found it has also helped with my stomach issues.”
SLE is regarded as a prototype disease due to the significant overlap in its symptoms with other autoimmune diseases. This means that it is an important area of continued research and study that is utilizing diverse techniques such as GWAS, microarrays, and murine studies. Further genetic studies of multiple ethnic groups and the creation of disease models incorporating environmental influences will help to increase and refine the understanding of specific genes, linkages, as well as the mechanisms underlying the disease.
Limitations of the test: Like CRP, the ESR is not specific to lupus. Because there are many causes for a positive result, including infection, the test is not diagnostic for lupus. Nor can it distinguish a lupus flare from an infection. Also, the level doesn't directly correlate with lupus disease activity. So it isn't necessarily useful for monitoring disease activity.
Medications that suppress immunity (immunosuppressive medications) are also called cytotoxic drugs. They are sometimes referred to as chemotherapy because they are also used to treat cancer, generally in much higher doses than those used to treat lupus. Immunosuppressive medications are used for treating people with more severe manifestations of SLE, such as damage to internal organ(s). Examples of immunosuppressive medications include azathioprine (Imuran), cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan), chlorambucil (Leukeran), cyclosporine (Sandimmune), and the disease-modifying drug methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall). All immunosuppressive medications can seriously depress blood-cell counts and increase risks of infection and bleeding. Immunosuppressive medications may not be taken during pregnancy or conceptionbecause of risk to the fetus. Other side effects are specific for each drug. For examples, methotrexate can cause liver toxicity, while cyclosporine can impair kidney function.
Based on the identified evidence the panel concluded that compared with GCs alone, the addition of other IS (CYC, MMF or TAC) is associated with significant benefits, higher remission rates and lower progression rates to end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Head-to-head comparisons between MMF, TAC and high-dose CYC showed that MMF and TAC are associated with less adverse effects than high-dose CYC. Between low and high-dose CYC the balance favours the former because of better safety profile and comparable efficacy, although this conclusion is based on one trial that included predominantly Caucasians. RTX did not provide additional benefits when combined with MMF.
The body’s tolerance of the antigens present on its own cells, i.e., autoantigens or self-antigens. It is theorized that autoreactive T lymphocytes are destroyed in the thymus by negative selection or in peripheral blood. Autoreactive T cells that escape destruction in the thymus may become tolerant because they are exposed to thousands of autoantigens as they circulate in the blood.
Intravenous immunoglobulins may be used to control SLE with organ involvement, or vasculitis. It is believed that they reduce antibody production or promote the clearance of immune complexes from the body, even though their mechanism of action is not well understood. Unlike immunosuppressives and corticosteroids, IVIGs do not suppress the immune system, so there is less risk of serious infections with these drugs.
Nutrients that are important for managing lupus, such as fiber and antioxidants, seem to have the most beneficial effects when consumed from real food rather than from supplements. What type of foods are included in a lupus diet? These include healthy fats, plenty of fresh veggies and fruits, and probiotic foods. Considering the fact that lupus can increase your risk for other chronic health problems (for example, women with lupus have a five- to tenfold higher risk for heart disease than the general population!), a nutrient-rich lupus diet can have far-reaching protective effects.
The cause of lupus remains unknown, but there is solid evidence that genetics, epigenetics (changes in chromosomes that affect gene activity), environmental factors, viruses and infections play a role. Further study of these variables is expected to improve our understanding of causes, which should lead to improved diagnosis, prognosis, prevention, and treatment.
Sometimes changes in blood counts may contribute to symptoms of fatigue (low red blood cell count, anemia), serious infections (low white blood cell count), or easy bruising (low platelet count). However, many patients do not have symptoms that indicate blood abnormalities, so it is important for lupus patients to have periodic blood tests in order to detect any problems.
MRI (or magnetic resonance imaging) scan is a radiology technique which uses magnetism, radio waves, and a computer to produce images of body structures. MRI scanning is painless and does not involve X-ray radiation. Patients with heart pacemakers, metal implants, or metal chips or clips in or around the eyes cannot be scanned with MRI because of the effect of the magnet.
Since SLE patients can have a wide variety of symptoms and different combinations of organ involvement, no single test establishes the diagnosis of systemic lupus. To help doctors improve the accuracy of the diagnosis of SLE, 11 criteria were established by the American Rheumatism Association. These 11 criteria are closely related to the symptoms discussed above. Some people suspected of having SLE may never develop enough criteria for a definite diagnosis. Other people accumulate enough criteria only after months or years of observation. When a person has four or more of these criteria, the diagnosis of SLE is strongly suggested. Nevertheless, the diagnosis of SLE may be made in some settings in people with only a few of these classical criteria, and treatment may sometimes be instituted at this stage. Of these people with minimal criteria, some may later develop other criteria, but many never do.
Testing for antibody to double-stranded DNA antigen (anti-dsDNA) and antibody to Sm nuclear antigen (anti-Sm) may be helpful in patients who have a positive ANA test but do not meet full criteria for the diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus. AntidsDNA and anti-Sm, particularly in high titers, have high specificity for systemic lupus erythematosus, although their sensitivity is low. Therefore, a positive result helps to establish the diagnosis of the disease, but a negative result does not rule it out.46 The CAP guideline recommends against testing for other autoantibodies in ANA-positive patients, because there is little evidence that these tests are of benefit.46
Avoid calcium supplements, however, which Johns Hopkins researchers have found to potentially increase the risk of heart damage and arterial plaque buildup. “Due to the risk of accelerated atherosclerosis in lupus, we no longer recommend calcium supplementation and encourage a diet rich in calcium instead,” noted George Stojan, MD, a rheumatologist and assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins.
Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, hydrocortisone, methylprednisolone, and dexamethasone, are related to cortisol, which is a natural anti-inflammatory hormone. They work by rapidly suppressing inflammation. Corticosteroids can be given by mouth, in creams applied to the skin, by injection, or by intravenous (IV) infusion (dripping the drug into the vein through a small tube). Because they are potent drugs, the doctor will seek the lowest dose required to achieve the desired benefit.
An intravenous pyelogram (IVP) is a special x-ray examination of the kidneys, bladder, and ureters (the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder). An intravenous pyelogram is performed by injecting contrast material into a vein in the arm. A series of x-rays are taken at timed intervals as the contrast material goes through the kidneys, the ureters, and the bladder. The procedure helps to evaluate the condition of those organs.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a complex multisystemic autoimmune disease resulting, oftentimes, in irreversible damage, diminished quality of life and reduced life expectancy.1–3 Genetic and environmental factors play important roles in its pathogenesis.4–8 Disease manifestations and severity vary according to the patients’ racial/ethnic background and socioeconomic status (SES).1 9 10 Data from Grupo Latino Americano de Estudio del Lupus (GLADEL), Lupus in Minorities: Nature vs Nurture (LUMINA) and the Lupus Family Registry and Repository cohorts have demonstrated that Latin American and North American Mestizo patients (mixed Amerindian and European ancestry), African descendants and Native Americans develop lupus earlier11 12 although diagnostic delays may occur.1 They also experience more severe disease, have higher disease activity levels,1 accrue more organ damage2 and have higher mortality rates,1 succumbing mainly to disease activity and/or infections.1 3 13–15
“The most surprising result from this study was that the combination of the two metabolic inhibitors was necessary to reverse disease, when it could have been predicted based on models published by others that either one alone would work,” said study co-author Laurence Morel, Ph.D., director of experimental pathology and a professor of pathology, immunology, and laboratory medicine in the University of Florida College of Medicine, in an email to Healthline.
The panel concluded that long-term IS agents during maintenance therapy prolong stable renal function, reduce proteinuria, extend renal survival and minimise the toxicity of GCs. AZA, CYC, MMF and CsA seem to be equivalent regarding efficacy but MMF and AZA have a better safety profile, particularly regarding gonadal toxicity and blood pressure control. We found very low certainty of the evidence for TAC as maintenance therapy, with studies mostly restricted to Asian populations.
Lupus is often missed or misdiagnosed because the symptoms are vague and can match those of other conditions. Generally, a doctor will review your medical history and your family history, and look for signs of systemic inflammation. Because lupus can involve the internal and external organs, a doctor will rely on observation as well as laboratory testing in order to make a lupus diagnosis. There is no one test for lupus–generally, many different criteria will need to come together, and it can take years to reach a diagnosis.
“My message to patients is that we can do an excellent job of managing the condition compared to 20 years ago,” says Roberto Caricchio, MD, the interim section chief of rheumatology at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia and the director of the Temple Lupus Clinic at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine. With that said, people should never underestimate the serious effects lupus can have, he adds, which is why working with your doctor to manage the condition is so important.
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