Lupus, also known as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE, is a complex disease that can be difficult to diagnose. It affects many areas of body including the joints, skin and kidneys. More than 200,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with lupus each year. Like other autoimmune diseases, in lupus, cells essentially make the bad decision to attack the body’s own cells.
Unfortunately, there are no widely accepted diagnostic criteria for SLE. However, many doctors use the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) 11 common criteria. These criteria were designed to identify subjects for research studies, so they are very stringent. If you currently have four or more of these criteria or if you've had them in the past, chances are very high that you have SLE. However, having less than four doesn't rule out SLE. Again, additional testing may be necessary to inform a formal diagnosis. These criteria include:
When lupus starts affecting other organs of the body, doctors often prescribe drugs that suppress the immune system, says Kramer. (Lupus causes the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack itself. Immunosuppressive medications help stop that from happening.) One such example, is Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), originally an anticancer drug. It suppresses the immune system and may be used to reduce inflammation of the kidney, or nephritis, says Dr. Kaplan.
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.
If you have lupus, you may experience dry mouth. Your eyes may feel gritty and dry, too. That’s because some people with lupus develop Sjogren’s disease, another autoimmune disorder. Sjogren’s causes the glands responsible for tears and saliva to malfunction, and lymphocytes can accumulate in the glands. In some cases, women with lupus and Sjogren’s may also experience dryness of the vagina and skin.
Lupus is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that can affect multiple parts of the body including the various organ systems. Doctors prescribe traditional pharmaceutical medications to manage symptoms and prevent flare ups of the disease that can cause more serious problems and complications. Many patients choose to supplement their pharmaceutical care with alternative treatments and lifestyle adjustments like using diet and exercise to minimize lupus symptoms. We discuss this further in our blog, Lupus/Chronic Illness: The Mind/Body Connection. There exists two major diets widely discussed in the autoimmune world. One is the anti-inflammatory diet and one is called the Paleo Diet.
Chronic diseases are noncommunicable illnesses that are prolonged in duration, do not resolve spontaneously, and are rarely cured completely. Although chronic diseases are more common among older adults, they affect people of all ages and are now recognized as a leading health concern of the nation. Growing evidence indicates that a comprehensive approach to prevention can save tremendous costs and needless suffering.
Anti-dsDNA test:This is the protein directed against the double-stranded DNA, the material making up the genetic code. This test is very specific for lupus, and can be used to determine a lupus diagnosis. One in every two people with lupus has a positive anti-dsDNA test. The presence of this anti-dsDNA can indicate a higher risk of lupus nephritis, kidney inflammation that can occur with lupus. This test can confirm the need to closely monitor the kidneys. Only half the people with lupus have a positive test, so a positive or negative test does not mean you have lupus.
The male hormone DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), produced in the adrenals, seems to help and may reduce the need for prednisone. Although DHEA is available over-the-counter, don’t take it without medical supervision. It presents an increased risk of heart attack and breast and prostate cancer so it is vital that a physician monitor anyone taking it for lupus. Furthermore, over-the-counter brands of DHEA may not be as reliable as prescription forms.
In patients with SLE and nephritis who progress to end-stage renal disease, dialysis and transplantation may be required; these treatments have rates of long-term patient and graft survival that are similar to those observed in patients without diabetes and SLE.  However, transplantation is considered the treatment of choice because of improved survival rates. 
Anyone can have lupus. More than 90 percent of people living with lupus are women between the ages of 15 and 45. African-American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American women are at greater risk of developing lupus than white women. In particular, African-American women are three times more likely to get lupus than white women. Men, who make up 10 percent of lupus patients, often develop the disease before puberty and after the age of 50.
In addition to helping with lupus nephritis, these drugs may be prescribed to reduce inflammation of the heart and the lining surrounding the lungs. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) used for rheumatoid arthritis treatment, such as methotrexate, may be an effective and well-tolerated option for reducing swelling in patients with severe arthritis, adds Caricchio. DMARDs are another type of immunosuppressant.
As many as 70% of people with lupus have some skin symptoms. The three main categories of lesions are chronic cutaneous (discoid) lupus, subacute cutaneous lupus, and acute cutaneous lupus. People with discoid lupus may exhibit thick, red scaly patches on the skin. Similarly, subacute cutaneous lupus manifests as red, scaly patches of skin but with distinct edges. Acute cutaneous lupus manifests as a rash. Some have the classic malar rash (or butterfly rash) associated with the disease. This rash occurs in 30 to 60% of people with SLE.
Micrograph of a section of human skin prepared for direct immunofluorescence using an anti-IgG antibody. The skin is from a person with systemic lupus erythematosus and shows IgG deposits at two different places. The first is a bandlike deposit along the epidermal basement membrane ("lupus band test" is positive); the second is within the nuclei of the epidermal cells (antinuclear antibodies are present).
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.
Heart: If inflammation affects the heart, it can result in myocarditis and endocarditis. It can also affect the membrane that surrounds the heart, causing pericarditis. Chest pain or other symptoms may result. Endocarditis can damage the heart valves, causing the valve surface to thicken and develop. This can result in growths that can lead to heart murmurs.
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)
Lupus affects people in many different ways, so there is not one diet which is guaranteed to work for everyone, but the Mediterranean diet (plenty of fruit and vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, two portions of fish per week and small amounts of meat and dairy produce) is probably the simplest one to follow and is suitable for all the family as it is a pattern of healthy eating.
In the United States, systemic lupus erythematosus is reported to be more common in women, particularly black women, than in white men.14,16 One U.S. retrospective study16 of medical records found that the disease is diagnosed 23 times more often in black women than in white men. The prevalence of the disease is also higher in Hispanic and Asian Americans.16 In addition, a familial predisposition to systemic lupus erythematosus has been identified.17-19
“NHS dieticians seem to specialise in those struggling to lose (rather than gain) weight in my experience. On my initial consultation I was given a booklet with advice based on eating a full English breakfast, then snacks like doughnuts and pork pies. My sons would be thrilled to get medical advice to eat like that! The nutritional supplements they offer taste extremely artificial to me. I can only eat a little and very slowly, so get to ‘savour’ every sip of it. I’m trying protein shakes I buy myself, which taste better, but just one of those is very filling.”
SLE is undoubtedly a potentially serious illness with involvement of numerous organ systems. However, it is important to recognize that most people with SLE lead full, active, and healthy lives. Periodic increases in disease activity (flares) can usually be managed by varying medications. Since ultraviolet light can precipitate and worsen flares, people with systemic lupus should avoid sun exposure. Sunscreens and clothing covering the extremities can be helpful. Abruptly stopping medications, especially corticosteroids, can also cause flares and should be avoided. People with SLE are at increased risk of infections as SLE-related complications, especially if they are taking corticosteroids or immunosuppressive medications. Therefore, any unexpected fever should be reported to medical professionals and evaluated.
“There are no foods that cause lupus and no foods that cure it, but eating a well-balanced diet may help combat some of the side effects of medications, as well as alleviate symptoms of the disease,” said Laura Gibofsky, MS, RD, CSP, CDN, a clinical nutritionist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, New York. First, the “Western diet,” consisting of an excess of fatty, salty, sugary foods, has been implicated in autoimmune diseases overall.2 Proper nutrition can also help improve the risk of comorbid diseases that commonly affect patients with SLE.
A diet high in folic acid, such as found in leafy green vegetables, fruits, and fortified breads and cereals, or a folic acid supplement is important if you are taking methotrexate (Rheumatrex). For nausea caused by medications, eat small frequent meals and foods that are easy to digest. Try dry cereals, breads, and crackers. Also avoid greasy, spicy, and acidic foods.
The monoclonal antibody belimumab (Benlysta), a B-lymphocyte stimulator–specific inhibitor, has been found to reduce disease activity and possibly decrease the number of severe flares and steroid use in patients with SLE when used in combination with standard therapy.  In March, 2011, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of belimumab in combination with standard therapies (including steroids, nonbiologic DMARDS [eg, hydroxychloroquine, azathioprine, methotrexate]) to treat active autoantibody-positive SLE.  In July 2017, a subcutaneous (SC) formulation was approved that allows patients to self-administer a once-weekly dose. 
“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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Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.
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