Acute cutaneous: This is the type of skin flare that occurs when your SLE is active. Lesions associated with acute cutaneous lupus appear as flattened areas of red skin on the face, reminiscent of a sunburn—the telltale butterfly rash. These lesions can appear on the arms, legs, and body, and are photosensitive. Though the lesions may discolor the skin, they don't scar. Lesions typically appear during a flare or after sun exposure.
Normally, our immune system produces proteins called antibodies that protect the body from these foreign invaders. When you have lupus, your immune system cannot tell the difference between these foreign invaders and your body’s healthy tissues, so autoantibodies are made that damage and destroy healthy tissue (auto means self and anti means against, so autoantibody means against self). These autoantibodies cause inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body.
Many drugs have been known to cause this form of the disease, but several are considered primary culprits. They are mainly anti-inflammatories, anticonvulsants, or drugs used to treat chronic conditions such as heart disease, thyroid disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), and neuropsychiatric disorders. The three drugs mostly to blame for drug-induced lupus are:
One common early symptom that can be indicative of lupus is a photosensitive rash, meaning a rash that develops in response to sun exposure, particularly on the face and upper arms, says Dr. Kramer. Other early symptoms are unexplained fever and pain, swelling, and stiffness of multiple joints. Complications such as inflammation of the lining surrounding the lungs or heart can also occur early on, he adds.
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are used preventively to reduce the incidence of flares, the progress of the disease, and the need for steroid use; when flares occur, they are treated with corticosteroids. DMARDs commonly in use are antimalarials such as hydroxychloroquine and immunosuppressants (e.g. methotrexate and azathioprine). Hydroxychloroquine is an FDA-approved antimalarial used for constitutional, cutaneous, and articular manifestations. Hydroxychloroquine has relatively few side effects, and there is evidence that it improves survival among people who have SLE. Cyclophosphamide is used for severe glomerulonephritis or other organ-damaging complications. Mycophenolic acid is also used for treatment of lupus nephritis, but it is not FDA-approved for this indication, and FDA is investigating reports that it may be associated with birth defects when used by pregnant women.
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.
Individual test results can also vary from one visit to another, which can be very confusing. A doctor will take into consideration a combination of factors as well as the test results when diagnosing lupus, and because of this, we encourage you inquire about the ANA and DNA testing, which doctors are often reluctant to give. These two tests together can create a clearer picture of whether the diagnosis could be lupus. Again, we must remind you that just because you test negative today, it does not mean that you won’t test positive tomorrow.
Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are a population of CD4+ T cells with a unique role in the immune response. Tregs are crucial in suppressing aberrant pathological immune responses in autoimmune diseases, transplantation, and graft-vs-host disease after allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Tregs are activated through the specific T-cell receptor, but their effector function is nonspecific and they regulate the local inflammatory response through cell-to-cell contact and cytokine secretion. Tregs secrete interleukin (IL)-9 (IL-9), IL-10, and transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-beta 1), which aid in the mediation of immunosuppressive activity.
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.
Studies have shown that lupus multiplies a woman’s risk for osteoporosis five times4 – an alarming figure, no doubt. Osteoporosis is a condition where bone density decreases, leading to an increased risk of skeletal fracture at older age. Like lupus, osteoporosis has no cure, so it's a condition better prevented than treated, especially for women.
Avoiding sunlight in SLE is critical, since sunlight is known to exacerbate skin manifestations of the disease. Avoiding activities which induce fatigue is also important, since those with SLE fatigue easily and it can debilitating. These two problems can lead to people becoming housebound for long periods of time. Drugs unrelated to SLE should be prescribed only when known not to exacerbate the disease. Occupational exposure to silica, pesticides, and mercury can also worsen the disease.
Another common comorbidity with SLE is osteoporosis; researchers have found an increased risk of fracture and bone loss in SLE. Experts attribute this to several factors, including glucocorticoid medications that can lead to bone loss, inactivity due to symptoms such as pain and fatigue, and possibly the disease activity itself. In addition, women comprise approximately 90% of people with SLE, adding to their generally elevated osteoporosis risk.5
You may need to see different kinds of doctors to treat the many symptoms of lupus. Once you’re diagnosed, your primary physician for lupus is usually a rheumatologist, who treats arthritis and other diseases that cause swelling in the joints. The rheumatologist may then send you to a clinical immunologist for treating immune system disorders; a nephrologist (kidney disease); a hematologist (blood disorders); a dermatologist (skin diseases); a neurologist (the nervous system); a cardiologist (heart and blood vessel problems), and an endocrinologist (glands and hormones).
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. 
Autoantibodies directed against various nuclear antigens including DAutoantibodies directed against various nuclear antigens including DNA, RNA, histones, acidic nuclear proteins, or complexes of these molecular elements. Antinuclear antibodies are found in systemic autoimmune diseases including systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjogren’s syndrome, scleroderma, polymyositis, and mixed connective tissue disease. Autoantibodies directed against various nuclear antigens including DNA, RNA, histones, acidic nuclear proteins, or complexes of these molecular elements. Antinuclear antibodies are found in systemic autoimmune diseases including systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjogren’s syndrome, scleroderma, polymyositis, and mixed connective tissue disease.
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.
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.
“There’s no specific diet for lupus, but the Mediterranean-style diet comes close to what’s most ideal," says Sotiria Everett, RD, a clinical assistant professor in the department of family, population, and preventive medicine at Stony Brook School of Medicine in New York. "You want to eat a diet that’s low in fat and sugar and has lots of fruits and vegetables. You should get some of your protein from fish and eat lots of beans and legumes because they’re high in fiber, vitamin B, and iron."
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.
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