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.
As many as 70% of people with lupus have some skin symptoms. The three main categories of lesions are chronic cutaneous (discoid) lupus, subacute cutaneous lupus, and acute cutaneous lupus. People with discoid lupus may exhibit thick, red scaly patches on the skin. Similarly, subacute cutaneous lupus manifests as red, scaly patches of skin but with distinct edges. Acute cutaneous lupus manifests as a rash. Some have the classic malar rash (or butterfly rash) associated with the disease. This rash occurs in 30 to 60% of people with SLE.
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.
Photosensitive systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) rashes typically occur on the face or extremities, which are sun-exposed regions. Although the interphalangeal spaces are affected, the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) and proximal interphalangeal (PIP) and distal interphalangeal (DIP) joints are spared. Photo courtesy of Dr. Erik Stratman, Marshfield Clinic.
Combination treatment: Health care providers may combine a few medications to control lupus and prevent tissue damage. Each treatment has risks and benefits. Most immune-suppressing medications may cause side effects and require close monitoring. Side effects of these drugs may include a raised risk of infections as well as nausea, vomiting, hair loss, diarrhea, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis (weak bones). Rheumatologists may lower the dose of a drug or stop a medicine because of side effects or when the disease goes into remission. As a result, it is important to receive careful and frequent health exams and lab tests to track your symptoms and change your treatment as needed.
Immunosuppressive agents/chemotherapy. In advanced cases of lupus, drugs like azathioprine, methotrexate and cyclophosphamide might be used to suppress the immune system. These types of therapies can help prevent organ damage; however, they do cause severe side effects as well as infertility in women. People on immunosuppressive therapies must be closely monitored by a doctor.
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate. This blood test determines the rate at which red blood cells settle to the bottom of a tube in an hour. A faster than normal rate may indicate a systemic disease, such as lupus. The sedimentation rate isn't specific for any one disease. It may be elevated if you have lupus, an infection, another inflammatory condition or cancer.
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