Elevation of the antinuclear antibody (ANA) titer to 1:40 or higher is the most sensitive of the ACR diagnostic criteria. More than 99 percent of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus have an elevated ANA titer at some point,21,41 although a significant proportion of patients may have a negative ANA titer early in the disease.2 However, the ANA test is not specific for systemic lupus erythematosus. A study41 involving 15 international laboratories found that ANA tests in the general population were positive in 32 percent of persons at a 1:40 dilution and in 5 percent of persons at a 1:160 dilution. Rates of positive ANA tests were not affected by age up to 60 years (the upper age limit of the study).41
Lupus band test. Microphotograph of a histologic section of human skin prepared for direct immunofluorescence using an anti-IgG antibody. The skin is from a patient with systemic lupus erythematosus and shows IgG deposit at 2 different places: the first is a band-like deposit along the epidermal basement membrane ("lupus band test" is positive); the second is within the nuclei of the epidermal cells (anti-nuclear antibodies).
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.
Everett adds that eating fish for protein is particularly good. Fish — especially salmon, tuna, and mackerel — contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are important because they help fight inflammation, she says. Omega-3s, which are also available as supplements, may decrease your risk for heart disease. This may be especially important for women with lupus because they have at least double the risk of heart disease compared with women who don't have lupus, according to a review of studies published in August 2013 in Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism. “Lupus is an independent risk factor for heart disease, so you should maintain a heart-healthy diet that helps fight inflammation and keeps you at a healthy weight," Everett says.
Many women with lupus ask "it safe for me to get pregnant?" or "can I have a healthy pregnancy?" Pregnancy is possible in most patients with lupus, but complications are frequent. Anyone with lupus should be considered to have a high risk for health complications during pregnancy. When a woman with lupus becomes pregnant or is planning to become pregnant, she should get a referral for appropriate, specialized care. Lupus patients who are positive for aPL are at high risk of miscarriage, while patients with anti-Ro/SSA and anti-La/SSB antibodies are at risk for delivering a child with neonatal lupus.
Although no one symptom qualifies someone as having lupus, certain clinical techniques can be used to narrow down the diagnosis. For example, a test for antinuclear antibodies (ANAs) in the blood is probably the first tool a physician will use. A positive ANA test does not necessarily mean that someone has lupus; in fact, one out of five normal women has a positive ANA. However, a negative ANA test greatly reduces the suspicion.
Approximately 20% of people with SLE have clinically significant levels of antiphospholipid antibodies, which are associated with antiphospholipid syndrome. Antiphospholipid syndrome is also related to the onset of neural lupus symptoms in the brain. In this form of the disease the cause is very different from lupus: thromboses (blood clots or "sticky blood") form in blood vessels, which prove to be fatal if they move within the blood stream. If the thromboses migrate to the brain, they can potentially cause a stroke by blocking the blood supply to the brain.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) revealed regions of linkage that were found on most chromosomes. These studies are useful in identifying the genes that may be responsible for complex diseases such as SLE. Candidate gene loci implicated with SLE include multiple alleles from the HLA region, Fc-gamma receptor, and complement component system. However, association does not prove that a specific form of a gene is responsible for the disease, as there may be other polymorphisms in the region that have a greater association effect. However, because the biological role of most genes are not completely understood, it can be difficult to attribute phenotypic traits to certain genetic polymorphisms. Since SLE is associated with so many genetic regions, it is likely an oligogenic trait, meaning that there are several genes that control susceptibility to the disease. Further complicating our understanding is the association of certain linkages with various ethnic groups.
Outcomes research seeks to understand the end results of particular health care practices and interventions. End results include effects that people experience and care about, such as change in the ability to function. In particular, for individuals with chronic conditions—where cure is not always possible—end results include quality of life as well as mortality.
Because the antibodies and accompanying cells of inflammation can affect tissues anywhere in the body, lupus has the potential to affect a variety of areas. Sometimes lupus can cause disease of the skin, heart, lungs, kidneys, joints, and/or nervous system. When only the skin is involved by rash, the condition is called lupus dermatitis or cutaneous lupus erythematosus. A form of lupus dermatitis that can be isolated to the skin, without internal disease, is called discoid lupus erythematosus. When internal organs are involved, the condition is referred to as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
The underlying trigger to develop these antibodies in lupus is unknown, although experts believe that a combination of genetic, environmental, and possibly hormonal factors are involved. The fact that lupus can run in families suggests that there is a genetic basis for its development, but so far no single “lupus gene” has been identified. Experts suspect that several different genes may be involved in determining an individual’s chance of developing the disease, as well as which tissues and organs are affected, and how severe the disease will be if it does occur. Other factors being investigated as contributing to the onset of lupus are overexposure to sunlight, stress, certain drugs, and viruses and other infectious agents.
Raynaud’s phenomenon is a condition in which the small blood vessels in the fingers and toes spasm, limiting circulation, says Dr. Kaplan. People with Raynaud’s are extremely sensitive to cold temperatures and, in those conditions, will often notice a loss of circulation and loss of color in their digits much more quickly than people without the condition. Raynaud’s affects about a third of people with lupus and can cause color loss in the fingers and toes, which first turn blue, followed by red. (9)
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.
“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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