If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus or any of the less common subtypes of lupus, you may be wondering about available treatment options and which ones may be right for you. Because lupus is a chronic disease, doctors work with you to manage symptoms — which can range from mild arthritis and rash to problems with the kidneys and other organs — using a variety of medications and therapies. And the best treatment approach for you might change over time as your symptoms and the condition changes.
Researchers have made great progress in identifying people at-risk for lupus and the molecular markers (something found in cells that can predict lupus flares) that appear before the onset of symptoms. From these advances, scientists hope to generate early-intervention or even disease-prevention strategies. For people with established lupus, research is focused on designing new clinical trials that test drug candidates, which, if successful, could be combined with existing therapies. The Lupus Research Alliance is funding the most innovative research in the world, with the hope of finding better diagnostics, improved treatment and, eventually, a cure.
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).
The mechanism by which foreign antigens are taken into antigen-presenting cells (APCs) and broken up. Part of the antigen is then displayed (presented) on the surface of the APC next to a histocompatibility or self-antigen, activating T lymphocytes and cell-mediated immunity. T lymphocytes are unable to recognize or respond to most antigens without APC assistance.
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. 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.
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.
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.
Another recent development is the shift regarding omega-3 fatty acids, which were believed to be beneficial in patients with lupus by decreasing inflammation. “We showed that omega-3 did not affect disease activity, improve endothelial function, or reduce inflammatory markers, though there was evidence that omega-3 may increase [low-density lipoprotein] LDL cholesterol,” said Dr Stojan. “We no longer recommend omega-3 supplementation in lupus patients.”
Anyone can have lupus. More than 90 percent of people living with lupus are women between the ages of 15 and 45. African-American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American women are at greater risk of developing lupus than white women. In particular, African-American women are three times more likely to get lupus than white women. Men, who make up 10 percent of lupus patients, often develop the disease before puberty and after the age of 50.
To minimize complications in pregnancy, SLE ideally should be well controlled for at least 4-6 months before conception. Obstetricians who handle high-risk pregnancies should optimally offer pregnancy planning consultation and monitor all pregnancies in patients with SLE. Suggestions for treatment of SLE during pregnancy are also included in the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) recommendations. High-dose aspirin and NSAIDs should be avoided in later pregnancy.
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.
On my first (and last) visit to the rheumatologist I asked what I could do to support my health or to avoid a worsening my lupus symptoms. She casually responded "Come back when you're worse and I'll put you on steroids". Straining to get some kind of supportive information I mustered up a question about diet and if there were foods I should eat or avoid. Her response was, "continue to eat whatever you want, it won't make a difference".
Corticosteroids may also be used to get rid of lupus flares, or the appearance of symptoms after a period of remission, says Francis Luk, MD, an assistant professor of rheumatology and immunology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “Depending on severity and type of flare and how many flares the patient has recently experienced, rheumatologists may adjust medications,” he adds.
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Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.
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