JAMES M. GILL, M.D., M.P.H., is director of the Health Services Research Group and associate program director of the family practice residency program at Christiana Care Health Services, Wilmington, Del. Dr. Gill received a medical degree from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey–Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Piscataway, and a master of public health degree from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore....
Once remission is achieved, start maintenance therapy with azathioprine or mycophenolate mofetil (ie, use less potent agents relative to long-term cyclophosphamide). The ALMS maintenance trial also found that mycophenolate mofetil was superior to azathioprine in the maintenance of the renal response to treatment and in the prevention of relapse in patients with lupus nephritis.  In the MAINTAIN trial, there was a trend toward fewer renal flares in patients receiving mycophenolate mofetil than in those receiving azathioprine  ; however, these results did not reach statistical significance.
In SLE patients with serious brain (lupus cerebritis) or kidney disease (lupus nephritis), plasmapheresis is sometimes used to remove antibodies and other immune substances from the blood to suppress immunity. Plasmapheresis is a process of removing blood and passing the blood through a filtering machine, then returning the blood to the body with its antibodies removed. Rarely, people with SLE can develop seriously low platelet levels, thereby increasing the risk of excessive and spontaneous bleeding. Since the spleen is believed to be the major site of platelet destruction, surgical removal of the spleen is sometimes performed to improve platelet levels. Other treatments have included plasmapheresis and the use of male hormones.
Neurological disorders contribute to a significant percentage of morbidity and mortality in people with lupus. As a result, the neural side of lupus is being studied in hopes of reducing morbidity and mortality rates. One aspect of this disease is severe damage to the epithelial cells of the blood–brain barrier. In certain regions, depression affects up to 60% of women with SLE.
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.
Lupus in children tends to be more aggressive than in adults, says Dr. Pascual. The exact reasons for this are not understood. One theory is that people are born with genetic susceptibility to the disease that may be triggered by environmental factors such as a virus. “Children with the condition may have inherited a more complex set of predisposing genes,” she says. But this theory has yet to be proved.
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate. This blood test determines the rate at which red blood cells settle to the bottom of a tube in an hour. A faster than normal rate may indicate a systemic disease, such as lupus. The sedimentation rate isn't specific for any one disease. It may be elevated if you have lupus, an infection, another inflammatory condition or cancer.
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