Often, people with lupus experience weight loss or gain due to loss of appetite, unhealthy dietary habits, or decreased energy and mobility. If you experience weight loss or loss of appetite, talk to your doctor. S/he can help you determine the cause of the problem and take strides to correct it. Weight gain can be caused by many factors, including reduced activity levels and overeating due to steroid use or increased stress. However, remember that women with lupus between the ages of 35 and 44 experience a risk of heat attack that is 50x that of the normal population. Therefore, it is very important that you try to stick to a diet that is low in cholesterol and saturated fats. A low-sodium diet is also essential for people suffering from high blood pressure (above 120/80 mmHg for people with lupus) and kidney disease.
A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids may help to mitigate inflammation. Although omega-3s have not been adequately studied in lupus, studies of the general population suggest that these essential fatty acids may also boost mood and improve cardiovascular health. Fish, nuts, and flax are excellent sources of omega-3s and can be easily incorporated into everyday meals. Try to avoid saturated fats, such as those in beef and fried snack foods, since these fats are known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and may actually stimulate the immune system.

With the vast amount of misinformation available online, Gibofsky often sees patients who went on restrictive diets that are purported to reduce lupus symptoms, which they may have read about on the internet or heard about from a neighbor. “Upon further discussion, I find that they do not actually feel better on the diet and, in fact, they have multiple nutritional deficiencies that could actually be the reason behind their worsening symptoms,” she said.
Why the test is used: Anti-Ro is found in anywhere from 24% to 60% of lupus patients. It's also found in 70% of people with another autoimmune disorder called Sjögren's syndrome. Anti-La is found in 35% of people with Sjögren's syndrome. For this reason, their presence may be useful in diagnosing one of these disorders. Both antibodies are associated with neonatal lupus, a rare but potentially serious problem in newborns. In pregnant women, a positive Anti-Ro(SSA) or Anti-La(SSB) warns doctors of the need to monitor the unborn baby.
Prognosis is typically worse for men and children than for women; however, if symptoms are present after age 60, the disease tends to run a more benign course. Early mortality, within 5 years, is due to organ failure or overwhelming infections, both of which can be altered by early diagnosis and treatment. The mortality risk is fivefold when compared to the normal population in the late stages, which can be attributed to cardiovascular disease from accelerated atherosclerosis, the leading cause of death for people with SLE.[83] To reduce the potential for cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure and high cholesterol should be prevented or treated aggressively. Steroids should be used at the lowest dose for the shortest possible period, and other drugs that can reduce symptoms should be used whenever possible.[83]
Ms. Everett then discussed some important general nutrition guidelines of which individuals with lupus should be aware. Some key guidelines include diets low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium; low in refined sugars like soda and concentrated juices; and high in fiber. It is important to be aware of high protein diets which can often stress the kidneys. Most importantly, Ms. Everett stresses the importance of keeping a well-balanced diet.
Any of a group of autoantibodies that react against normal components of the cell nucleus. They are present in several immunologic diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus, progressive systemic sclerosis, Sjögren syndrome, scleroderma, polymyositis, and dermatomyositis, and in some patients taking hydralazine, procainamide, or isoniazid. In addition, ANA is present in some normal people. Tests for ANAs are used in the diagnosis and management of autoimmune diseases.
An inflammatory response (inflammation) occurs when tissues are injured by bacteria, trauma, toxins, heat, or any other cause. The damaged cells release chemicals including histamine, bradykinin, and prostaglandins. These chemicals cause blood vessels to leak fluid into the tissues, causing swelling. This helps isolate the foreign substance from further contact with body tissues.

Systemic sclerosis (SSc): Similar symptoms between SSc and lupus are reflux and Raynaud's disease (when your fingers turn blue or white with cold). One difference between SSc and lupus is that anti-double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) and anti-Smith (Sm) antibodies, which are linked to lupus, don't usually occur in SSc. Another differentiator is that people with SSc often have antibodies to an antigen called Scl-70 (topoisomerase I) or antibodies to centromere proteins.


According to the Lupus Foundation of America, approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S. have lupus. People of African, Asian, and Native American descent are more likely to develop lupus than are Caucasians. Although it can occur in both men and women, 90% of people diagnosed with the disease are women. Women of childbearing age (14 to 45 years old) are most often affected and as many as 1 in 250 people may develop lupus.
Inflammation of the heart muscle, usually in the U.S. as a consequence of infections (viruses, esp. coxsackie virus, and occasionally as a consequence of bacterial, protozoan or fungal infections); immunological-rheumatological conditions (e.g., systemic lupus erythematosus, ulcerative colitis, hypersensitivity reactions, or transplant rejection); exposure to chemicals or toxins (e.g., cocaine, doxorubicin, methamphetamine); nutritional or metabolic abnormalities (e.g., thiamine deficiency or hypophosphatemia); or radiation. Myocarditis also is occasionally found in pregnancy and with advanced age. The myocardium is infiltrated by leukocytyes, lymphocytes, and macrophages, leading to inflammation, necrosis of muscle cells, and fibrosis. Inflammatory damage to heart muscle fibers may resolve spontaneously or may cause progressive deterioration of the heart with pericarditis, arrhythmias, chronic dilated cardiomyopathy, and heart failure.
Lupus is chronic, complex, and difficult to diagnose. No single lab test can tell if you have lupus. Many lupus symptoms imitate symptoms of other diseases and often come and go. Your primary care doctor or rheumatologist will use your medical history, a physical exam, and many routine as well as special tests to rule out other diseases. Many physicians also use the American College of Rheumatology's "Eleven Criteria of Lupus" to aid in the diagnosis of lupus. The criteria include symptoms as well as specific laboratory findings that provide information about the functioning of a person's immune system. In most cases, the diagnosis of lupus is made when four or more of the criteria have occurred at some time.
A complex of genes on chromosome 6 that code for the antigens that determine tissue and blood compatibility. In humans, histocompatibility antigens are called human leukocyte antigens (HLA) because they were originally discovered in large numbers on lymphocytes. There are thousands of combinations of HLA antigens. Class I MHC antigens (HLA-A, HLA-B, and HLA-C) are found on all nucleated cells and platelets. Class II antigens (HLA-DR, HLA-DQ, and HLA-DP) are found on lymphocytes and antigen processing cells and are important in the specific immune response. In tissue and organ transplantation, the extent to which the HLA or “tissue type” of the donor and recipient match is a major determinant of the success of the transplant.
In this presentation, Ms. Everett covers the relationship of diet and nutritional considerations and lupus, osteoporosis, medication side effects, and vitamins and supplements. This is the first of a two-part presentation. In Part II, Ms. Everett will focus more specifically on nutrition and the importance of heart health and kidney health for people with lupus. Before beginning the presentation, Ms. Everett highlighted that nutrition has become an important area of research in regard to lupus.
While there is no specific lupus diet, scientists have found that low-dose diet supplementation with omega-3 fish oils could help patients with lupus by decreasing inflammation and disease activity and possibly decreasing heart-disease risk. It is generally recommended that patients with lupus eat a balanced diet that includes plant-based foods and lean sources of protein.
If you plan to add herbs, dietary supplements, or vitamins to your diet, you should discuss your decision with your lupus doctor first. This is especially important as herbs or supplements may interact with medicines used to treat lupus. Herbs or supplements should never be used to replace medicines prescribed to control symptoms of lupus or medication side effects.
Why the test is used: Between 75% and 90% of people with lupus have a positive anti-dsDNA test. Also, the test is very specific for lupus. Therefore, a positive test can be useful in confirming a diagnosis. For many people, the titer, or level, of the antibodies rises as the disease becomes more active. So, doctors can also use it to help measure disease activity. Also, the presence of anti-dsDNA indicates a greater risk of lupus nephritis, a kidney inflammation that occurs with lupus. So a positive test can alert doctors to the need to monitor the kidneys.
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.
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.

Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2018. Re-use permitted under CC BY-NC. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ. This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/.
Because the symptoms of lupus can mimic so many other health problems, you may need patience while waiting for a diagnosis. Your doctor must rule out a number of other illnesses before diagnosing lupus. You may need to see a number of specialists such as doctors who treat kidney problems (nephrologists), blood disorders (hematologists) or nervous system disorders (neurologists) depending on your symptoms to help with diagnosis and treatment.

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