Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation, creates a wide range of signs and symptoms. Systemic lupus erythematosus, the most common form of the condition, can potentially involve any major organ system of the body, says Neil Kramer, MD, co-medical director at the Institute for Rheumatic and Autoimmune Diseases at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, New Jersey. “Therefore, the first signs and symptoms vary from patient to patient.”
If this disorder is suspected in people, brain scans are usually required for early detection. These scans can show localized areas of the brain where blood supply has not been adequate. The treatment plan for these people requires anticoagulation. Often, low-dose aspirin is prescribed for this purpose, although for cases involving thrombosis anticoagulants such as warfarin are used.
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.
Medications that suppress immunity (immunosuppressive medications) are also called cytotoxic drugs. They are sometimes referred to as chemotherapy because they are also used to treat cancer, generally in much higher doses than those used to treat lupus. Immunosuppressive medications are used for treating people with more severe manifestations of SLE, such as damage to internal organ(s). Examples of immunosuppressive medications include azathioprine (Imuran), cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan), chlorambucil (Leukeran), cyclosporine (Sandimmune), and the disease-modifying drug methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall). All immunosuppressive medications can seriously depress blood-cell counts and increase risks of infection and bleeding. Immunosuppressive medications may not be taken during pregnancy or conceptionbecause of risk to the fetus. Other side effects are specific for each drug. For examples, methotrexate can cause liver toxicity, while cyclosporine can impair kidney function.
Antimalarials are another type of drug commonly used to treat lupus. These drugs prevent and treat malaria, but doctors have found that they also are useful for lupus. A common antimalarial used to treat lupus is hydroxychloroquine. It may be used alone or in combination with other drugs and generally is used to treat fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, and inflammation of the lungs. Clinical studies have found that continuous treatment with antimalarials may prevent flares from recurring.
Most all studies (such as the paleo and anti-inflammatory diets), are fairly in line with their recommendations. Funny enough, these dietary recommendations are for the general populous as well! So it’s not just people with lupus who should be re-aligning dietary thinking. However, as lupus is an inflammatory disease, it only makes sense that eating an anti-inflammatory diet, one rich in vitamins, iron, antioxidants and fish, also including the following suggestions, would be prudent.
Inflammation of the kidneys caused by an autoimmune disease called systemic lupus erythematosus. The condition can cause hematuria and proteinuria, and it may progress to end-stage renal disease. The most severe form of lupus nephritis, called diffuse proliferative nephritis, can cause scars to form in the kidneys. Scars are permanent, and kidney function often declines as more scars form. Early diagnosis and treatment may help prevent long-lasting damage.
Articular cartilage is the highly specialized connective tissue of diarthrodial joints. Its principal function is to provide a smooth, lubricated surface for articulation and to facilitate the transmission of loads with a low frictional coefficient. Articular cartilage is devoid of blood vessels, lymphatics, and nerves and is subject to a harsh biomechanical environment. Most important, articular cartilage has a limited capacity for intrinsic healing and repair. In this regard, the preservation and health of articular cartilage are paramount to joint health.
Doctors are tasked with interpreting test results, then correlating them with your symptoms and other test results. It's difficult when patients exhibit vague symptoms and clashing test results, but skillful doctors can consider all of these pieces of evidence and eventually determine whether you have lupus or something else entirely. This may take some time along with trial and error.
People with SLE need more rest during periods of active disease. Researchers have reported that poor sleep quality was a significant factor in developing fatigue in people with SLE. These reports emphasize the importance for people and physicians to address sleep quality and the effect of underlying depression, lack of exercise, and self-care coping strategies on overall health. During these periods, carefully prescribed exercise is still important to maintain muscle tone and range of motion in the joints.
Other drugs used to treat lupus include the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which modulates the immune system, and belimumab, a targeted drug that is a biologic (meaning it’s made from natural sources). Some chemotherapy drugs and anti-rejection drugs may be used, too, to treat patients with lupus nephritis or other organ problems, says Caricchio.
One main type of lupus, cutaneous lupus erythematosus, is limited to skin symptoms, including a rash and lesions. That means people with cutaneous lupus, which does not progress and become systemic lupus erythematosus, only experience skin symptoms. People with cutaneous lupus most commonly develop a discoid rash. It appears as round, raised, red patches and can cause scarring, Dr. Caricchio explains. “It’s often confined to small areas above the neck, such as the ears and scalp,” he says. The rash usually does not itch or cause discomfort.
Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are an essential arm of the innate immune response to bacteria, viruses and fungi and link recognition of distinct features of these microbes to the induction of pro-inflammatory signaling pathways. These receptors are able to respond to broad classes of pathogens because each TLR recognizes specific conserved microbial features.
Note: Ultimately, in patients with kidney disease from systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus nephritis), a kidney biopsy may be necessary to both define the cause of the kidney disease as being lupus-related as well as to determine the stage of the kidney disease in order to optimally guide treatments. Kidney biopsies are often performed by fine-needle aspiration of the kidney under radiology guidance, but in certain circumstances, a kidney biopsy can be done during an open abdominal operation.
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 disease, especially when active, could lead to accelerated atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries) which can develop in young women and could also lead to heart attacks, heart failure, and strokes. Thus, it is vital that patients with lupus, in addition to controlling their disease, exercise and lower other risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
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.
Antinuclear antibody (ANA) testing and anti-extractable nuclear antigen (anti-ENA) form the mainstay of serologic testing for SLE. Several techniques are used to detect ANAs. Clinically the most widely used method is indirect immunofluorescence (IF). The pattern of fluorescence suggests the type of antibody present in the people's serum. Direct immunofluorescence can detect deposits of immunoglobulins and complement proteins in the people's skin. When skin not exposed to the sun is tested, a positive direct IF (the so-called lupus band test) is an evidence of systemic lupus erythematosus.
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“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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