You may need to see different kinds of doctors to treat the many symptoms of lupus. Once you’re diagnosed, your primary physician for lupus is usually a rheumatologist, who treats arthritis and other diseases that cause swelling in the joints. The rheumatologist may then send you to a clinical immunologist for treating immune system disorders; a nephrologist (kidney disease); a hematologist (blood disorders); a dermatologist (skin diseases); a neurologist (the nervous system); a cardiologist (heart and blood vessel problems), and an endocrinologist (glands and hormones).
Most people with lupus have symptoms in only a few organs. If you have not already been diagnosed, the following table may alert you to the possibility of lupus. If you have already been diagnosed, these symptoms may indicate increased activity of the disease, known as a "flare." You may also have periods of remission when few or no symptoms are present. For most people, lupus can be managed and will affect only a few organs. Others may face serious, sometimes life-threatening problems.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), commonly known as "lupus," is an autoimmune illness. The immune system, which normally protects the body from foreign invaders and infection, malfunctions and instead attacks a person's own healthy body tissues. Its cause is unknown, but most scientists believe that genetics, combined with outside triggers (such as infections, medications or other environmental factors) lead people to develop lupus. Lupus is a lifelong condition, but symptoms tend to cycle in alternate periods of "flares" (or "flares-ups") and remissions. Lupus affects women much more than men. There is no known cure, but numerous treatments are available.
A healing lupus diet can help improve gut health in those with lupus by preventing allergies, reducing deficiencies and slowing down free radical damage. In fact, due to how autoimmune disorders develop, a low-processed lupus diet high in antioxidants is usually key for managing any autoimmune-related symptoms, including those due to arthritis, thyroid disorders, etc., which often overlap with lupus symptoms.
There is no single diagnostic test for systemic lupus. The test you will hear most about is called the antinuclear antibody (ANA) test. This is not a specific test for lupus, however. In fact, a variety of laboratory tests are used to detect physical changes or conditions in your body that can occur with lupus. Each test result adds more information to the picture your doctor is forming of your illness.
Acute Cutaneous Lupus results in flat red patches on the cheeks and nose called a malar or butterfly rash that looks quite like sunburn. These patches may also appear on the arms, legs, trunk and any other area that is commonly exposed to the sun. Patients with Acute Cutaneous Lupus can also manifest oral ulcers, hives and temporary hair loss. Acute Cutaneous Lupus is more common in people living with SLE.
The rate of SLE varies between countries, ethnicity, and sex, and changes over time. In the United States, one estimate of the rate of SLE is 53 per 100,000; other estimates range from 322,000 to over 1 million. In Northern Europe the rate is about 40 per 100,000 people. SLE occurs more frequently and with greater severity among those of non-European descent. That rate has been found to be as high as 159 per 100,000 among those of Afro-Caribbean descent. Childhood-onset systemic lupus erythematosus generally presents between the ages of 3 and 15 and is four times more common in girls.
Most autoimmune diseases affect one specific system. For example, Rheumatoid Arthritis involves the joints, and Multiple Sclerosis affects the brain and spinal cord. Lupus, on the other hand, affects more than one system simultaneously. No matter what organ or system is being attacked, all autoimmune diseases are similar in that they are an immune response caused by systemic inflammation that leads your body to attack itself.
García-Carrasco M1, Mendoza-Pinto C, Cardiel MH, Méndez-Martínez S, García-Villaseñor A, Jiménez-Hernández C, Alonso-García NE, Briones-Rojas R, Ramos-Álvarez G, López-Colombo A. "Health related quality of life in Mexican women with systemic lupus erythematosus: a descriptive study using SF-36 and LupusQoL(C)." Lupus 21.11 Oct. 2012.
Once a lupus diagnosis has been confirmed by your physician, you will have many questions. Here is a quick list of questions to help you get started in getting the necessary information in order to have a better understanding of your specific symptoms and move forward towards the most successful course of treatment and/or management of the disease. It may also be helpful to have an advocate along with you like a friend or loved one to help you remember important details:
Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) is an antimalarial medication found to be particularly effective for SLE people with fatigue, skin involvement, and joint disease. Consistently taking Plaquenil can prevent flare-ups of lupus. Side effects are uncommon but include diarrhea, upset stomach, and eye-pigment changes. Eye-pigment changes are rare but require monitoring by an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) during treatment with Plaquenil. Researchers have found that Plaquenil significantly decreased the frequency of abnormal blood clots in people with systemic lupus. Moreover, the effect seemed independent of immune suppression, implying that Plaquenil can directly act to prevent the blood clots. This fascinating study highlights an important reason for people and doctors to consider Plaquenil for long-term use, especially for those SLE people who are at some risk for blood clots in veins and arteries, such as those with phospholipid antibodies (cardiolipin antibodies, lupus anticoagulant, and false-positive venereal disease research laboratory test). This means not only that Plaquenil reduces the chance for re-flares of SLE, but it can also be beneficial in thinning the blood to prevent abnormal excessive blood clotting. Plaquenil is commonly used in combination with other treatments for lupus.
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.
EULAR recommendations for the management of SLE with neuropsychiatric manifestations support the evaluation and treatment of these symptoms in the same way as they are evaluated and treated in patients without SLE; if symptoms persist, management of these symptoms as an extension of SLE should be considered. [83, 61] For example, in patients with neuropsychiatric manifestations that may have an inflammatory etiology, immunosuppressive agents may be considered. 
The cause of lupus remains unknown, but there is solid evidence that genetics, epigenetics (changes in chromosomes that affect gene activity), environmental factors, viruses and infections play a role. Further study of these variables is expected to improve our understanding of causes, which should lead to improved diagnosis, prognosis, prevention, and treatment.
To unravel which people with positive ANA tests actually have lupus, additional blood work can be done. Doctors look for other potentially troublesome antibodies, so they will test for anti-double-stranded DNA and anti-Smith antibodies. These tests are less likely to be positive unless a patient truly has lupus. However, a person who has negative test results could still have lupus, even though this is not so in the case of ANA tests.
Landmark research has shown clearly that oral contraceptives do not increase the rate of flares of systemic lupus erythematosus. This important finding is opposite to what has been thought for years. Now we can reassure women with lupus that if they take birth-control pills, they are not increasing their risk for lupus flares. Note: Birth-control pills or any estrogen medications are still be avoided by women who are at increased risk of blood clotting, such as women with lupus who have phospholipid antibodies (including cardiolipin antibody and lupus anticoagulant).
In patients with SLE, the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) is at least twice that in the general population, and over half of patients have 3 or more CVD risk factors.3,4 “Following a heart-healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and fatty fish and limiting saturated and trans fats can actually help reduce the risk of heart disease,” Gibofsky told Rheumatology Advisor.
The European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) vaccination recommendations for rheumatic diseases, including lupus, advocate baseline assessment and delivery of nonlive vaccines during stable disease.  Particularly important is immunization against encapsulated organisms, such as meningococcal vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine, and routine Haemophilus influenzae childhood vaccination. Annual influenza vaccine is also encouraged.
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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