Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), also known simply as lupus, is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in many parts of the body. Symptoms vary between people and may be mild to severe. Common symptoms include painful and swollen joints, fever, chest pain, hair loss, mouth ulcers, swollen lymph nodes, feeling tired, and a red rash which is most commonly on the face. Often there are periods of illness, called flares, and periods of remission during which there are few symptoms.
The loss of self-tolerance is believed to be due to many hereditary and environmental factors and occurs when autoantigens are damaged, when they link with a foreign antigen, when the structure of a autoantigen is very similar to that of a foreign antigen (molecular mimicry), or when autoreactive T cells are not adequately controlled or are activated by nonspecific antigens. The changes in the appearance of the autoantigen or activation of autoreactive T-cells result in autoantigens being perceived as foreign. Inflammation and destruction of the tissues bearing the antigen occur because of the production of autoantibodies by B cells or the cytotoxicity of autoreactive T cells, which attack the autoantigens.
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.
Any of a group of immunoglobulin autoantibodies that react with phospholipids, which are one of the primary components of the cell membrane (the other components are glycolipids and steroids). These antibodies are found in patients with a variety of connective tissue and infectious disorders, including systemic lupus erythematosus, the antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, syphilis, and malaria. They cause abnormal blood clotting, thrombocytopenia; and in women of childbearing age, repeated miscarriages. The anticardiolipin antibodies are one type of antiphospholipid antibody.
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.
“I have given up sugar (except natural sugars), all soft drinks, pasta, chocolate, takeaways, and most processed foods/snacks. I have experienced a marked difference in energy levels and severity of flares, plus I have lost almost three stone in a year. I eat a simple diet, increase fruits/veg and I have found it has also helped with my stomach issues.”
The neoclassical period began in 1851 when the skin disease which is now known as discoid lupus was documented by the French physician, Pierre Cazenave. Cazenave termed the illness lupus and added the word erythematosus to distinguish this disease from other illnesses that affected the skin except they were infectious. Cazenave observed the disease in several people and made very detailed notes to assist others in its diagnosis. He was one of the first to document that lupus affected adults from adolescence into the early thirties and that the facial rash is its most distinguishing feature.
Since a large percentage of people with SLE have varying amounts of chronic pain, stronger prescription analgesics (painkillers) may be used if over-the-counter drugs (mainly nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) do not provide effective relief. Potent NSAIDs such as indomethacin and diclofenac are relatively contraindicated for people with SLE because they increase the risk of kidney failure and heart failure.
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.
A large body of research shows that a healthy, unprocessed diet is very important for managing autoimmune disorder symptoms, including those caused by lupus, because it helps control inflammation stemming from poor gut health. The majority of your immune system is actually located in inside your gastrointestinal tract, which is also known as the microbiome, and researchers believe that up to 90 percent of all diseases can be traced in some way back to dysfunction of the gut/microbiome. That’s why if you have lupus, focusing on a lupus diet treatment plan is a major step natural lupus treatment.
There are over 200 disorders that impact connective tissue. Some, like cellulitis, are the result of an infection. Injuries can cause connective tissue disorders, such as scars. Others, such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Marfan syndrome, and osteogenesis imperfecta, are genetic. Still others, like scleroderma, have no known cause. Each disorder has its own symptoms and needs different treatment.
The ACR Quality of Care statement  recommends annual cardiovascular disease risk assessment; some researchers suggest that the cardiovascular risk for SLE is similar to that for diabetes mellitus. The 10-year coronary event rate is 13-15% in patients with active SLE, which is comparable to the 10-year event rate of 18.8% in patients with known coronary artery disease.  African American patients with SLE may be particularly vulnerable to premature cardiovascular disease and related death. 
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.
Infections and diseases of the cardiovascular, renal, pulmonary, and central nervous systems are the most frequent causes of death in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus.8,23,32–37 Since the 1950s, the five-year survival rate for patients with systemic lupus erythematosus has increased from 50 percent to a range of 91 to 97 percent.8,23,32–34,38,39 It is not known how much of this increase in survival is due to improved management versus diagnosis of earlier and milder disease. Higher mortality rates are associated with seizures, lupus nephritis, and azotemia.36,37,40
Disease that results when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues. Examples include multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus. Autoimmune diseases can affect almost any part of the body, including the heart, brain, nerves, muscles, skin, eyes, joints, lungs, kidneys, glands, the digestive tract, and blood vessels. The classic sign of an autoimmune disease is inflammation, which can cause redness, heat, pain, and swelling.
Some people find that excluding gluten from their diet gives them more energy. Don’t be tempted to start excluding a lot of foods from your diet; this could lead to serious deficiencies. Avoiding gluten or dairy products will not necessarily prevent flares; food “triggers” vary greatly from person to person. If you feel that you have problems processing certain foods, talk to your GP and ask for a referral to either a dietician or an allergy specialist within the NHS. There are commercial allergy tests available, but these are not always accurate and could cost you a lot of money but bring you no lasting benefit.
At Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI), research programs study the cells which regulate lupus to further understand disease pathogenesis - or the development of the disease – translating these findings into therapeutic targets. In addition, clinical trials are ongoing to evaluate novel therapies in this disease. BRI has a Clinical Research Registry people can join to learn about clinical trials that may be appropriate for them.
Certain people may need to follow a slightly different diet. For example, pregnant women need to avoid eating certain foods; people with lupus nephritis (lupus affecting the kidneys) need to follow advice from their hospital dietician; and dietary advice for people over 60 and for children of various ages may also be different. The British Nutrition Foundation provides further advice and information about healthy eating and alternative diets. You can also find a lot more information in the links for further reading at the end of this article.
This axial, T2-weighted brain magnetic resonance image (MRI) demonstrates an area of ischemia in the right periventricular white matter of a 41-year-old woman with long-standing systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). She presented with headache and subtle cognitive impairments but no motor deficits. Faintly increased signal intensity was also seen on T1-weighted images, with a trace of enhancement following gadolinium that is too subtle to show on reproduced images. Distribution of the abnormality is consistent with occlusion of deep penetrating branches, such as may result from local vasculopathy, with no clinical or laboratory evidence of lupus anticoagulant or anticardiolipin antibody. Cardiac embolus from covert Libman-Sacks endocarditis remains less likely due to distribution.
Synovitis is an inflammation of the joint lining, called synovium. The symptoms are often of short duration and may change location although when caused by overuse tend to remain in one joint. The pain is usually more severe than expected based on the appearance of the joint on examination. In fact, sometimes there is pain without swelling or even tenderness in the joint, in which case the symptom is called “arthralgias” (literally meaning “joint pain” in Greek). Although synovitis has many different causes, the most common cause in an active healthy person is overuse.
In the absence of systemic lupus erythematosus, the most common reason for a positive ANA test is the presence of another connective tissue disease. Diseases that often are associated with a positive ANA test include Sjögren's syndrome (68 percent of affected patients), scleroderma (40 to 75 percent), rheumatoid arthritis (25 to 50 percent), and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (16 percent).20 An ANA test also can be positive in patients with fibromyalgia. In patients with diseases other than systemic lupus erythematosus, ANA titers usually are lower, and the immunofluorescent pattern is different.20
People with SLE have intense polyclonal B-cell activation, with a population shift towards immature B cells. Memory B cells with increased CD27+/IgD—are less susceptible to immunosuppression. CD27-/IgD- memory B cells are associated with increased disease activity and renal lupus. T cells, which regulate B-cell responses and infiltrate target tissues, have defects in signaling, adhesion, co-stimulation, gene transcription, and alternative splicing. The cytokines B-lymphocyte stimulator (BLys), interleukin 6, interleukin 17, interleukin 18, type I interferons, and tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα) are involved in the inflammatory process and are potential therapeutic targets.
The severity of lupus varies from mild to life threatening. Kidney problems and neurologic complications are more dangerous than the rashes, arthritis or other symptoms. After many years of having lupus, patients may develop hypertension (high blood pressure), accelerated atherosclerosis (plaque and fat build-up in the arteries), heart and lung diseases, kidney failure or osteoporosis. With proper treatment, the majority of people diagnosed with lupus have a normal life expectancy, but many will experience disabilities. Each patient will likely have his or her own specific pattern of symptoms and flares, but the disease can change over time.
A normal-range ANA titer in the context of organ system involvement that suggests systemic lupus erythematosus should prompt a work-up for alternative diagnoses. If no other cause is identified, the diagnosis of ANA-negative systemic lupus erythematosus and consultation with a rheumatologist should be considered. If patients with a normal ANA titer develop new clinical features that are consistent with systemic lupus erythematosus, ANA testing should be repeated.46 [Evidence level C, consensus/expert guidelines]
Vasculitis, antiphospholipid antibodies, and renal failure are commonly found in patients with lupus; these conditions greatly increase the risk of developing pulmonary emboli. The diagnosis in a patient with shortness of breath, hemoptysis, and pleuritic chest pain is commonly made with ventilation-perfusion scans or computed tomography (CT) angiography. The CT angiogram demonstrates a filling defect in the left anterior segmental artery (arrow).
Gluten can also lead to what’s known as molecular mimicry. The gluten protein, gliadin, resembles many of your body’s own tissues, particularly thyroid tissue. If you have Celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or a leaky gut, your immune system releases gliadin antibodies every time you eat gluten. Because gliadin looks so similar to your own tissues, sometimes these antibodies mistakenly attack other organs and systems, from the skin to the thyroid to the brain. This case of mistaken identity often leads to full-blown autoimmune disease.
Kidney inflammation in SLE (lupus nephritis) can cause leakage of protein into the urine, fluid retention, high blood pressure, and even kidney failure. This can lead to further fatigue and swelling (edema) of the legs and feet. With kidney failure, machines are needed to cleanse the blood of accumulated waste products in a process called dialysis.
One food to avoid is alfalfa sprouts. Alfalfa tablets have been associated with lupus flares or a lupus-like syndrome that includes muscle pain, fatigue, abnormal blood test results, and kidney problems. These problems may be due to a reaction to an amino acid found in alfalfa sprouts and seeds. This amino acid can activate the immune system and increase inflammation in people with lupus. Garlic may also stimulate the immune system.
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.
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.
In some cases, your doctor may want to do a biopsy of the tissue of any organs that seem to be involved in your symptoms. This is usually your skin or kidney but could be another organ. The tissue can then be tested to see the amount of inflammation there is and how much damage your organ has sustained. Other tests can show if you have autoimmune antibodies and whether they're related to lupus or something else.
Women with lupus have a higher risk of miscarriage and preterm labor, says Kaplan. Pregnant women with lupus also have a higher risk of preeclampsia, or high blood pressure, and signs that the kidneys and liver may not be functioning well. (20) If you have lupus and do get pregnant (or if you have lupus and are trying to get pregnant), see a high-risk maternal-fetal medicine specialist who has expertise in how to best handle such pregnancies.
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.
Painless passage of blood or protein in the urine may often be the only presenting sign of kidney involvement. Acute or chronic renal impairment may develop with lupus nephritis, leading to acute or end-stage kidney failure. Because of early recognition and management of SLE, end-stage renal failure occurs in less than 5% of cases; except in the black population, where the risk is many times higher.
The erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test is a blood test that measures inflammation in your body and is used to help diagnose conditions associated with acute and chronic inflammation, including lupus. It is usually used in conjunction with other tests, as the test itself is nonspecific. In other words, it can detect increases in inflammation, but it doesn't pinpoint where the inflammation is or point to a specific disease. Other conditions can affect outcomes of the test as well. The test is one that is usually conducted several times over a certain period to measure changes in inflammation.
Most patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (unless they’re otherwise advised by their rheumatologist) should be taking an oral antimalarial drug — medications originally used to prevent a malaria infection, but that have been found to help with lupus symptoms, says Dr. Kramer. The antimalarial hydroxychloroquine helps prevent lupus flares, minimizes joint inflammation, and controls fever, fatigue, pleurisy (inflammation of the sac surrounding the lungs), and pericarditis (inflammation of the lining around the heart). The drug is also “the backbone of therapy” for most skin rashes associated with lupus, says Kramer. Mouth sores may also be alleviated with this drug. Chloroquine and quinacrine are other antimalarials drugs used to treat lupus. (3)
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