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).
SLE is chronic and complex, and is often difficult to diagnose. First, there is no single laboratory test that can determine if a person has SLE. Second, many symptoms of SLE are similar to those of other diseases, and can come and go over weeks and months. Finally, doctors must look at a person’s medical history, rule out other diseases, and consider both physical and laboratory evidence before a SLE diagnosis. The symptoms of SLE vary from patient to patient.
Get involved in your care. Learn as much as you can about lupus, your medications, and what kind of progress to expect. Take all your medications as your doctor prescribes, and visit your rheumatologist often to prevent serious problems. This lets your doctor keep track of your disease and change your treatment as needed. If you do not live near a rheumatologist, you may need to have your primary care doctor manage your lupus with the help of a rheumatologist.
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The modern period, beginning in 1920, saw major developments in research into the cause and treatment of discoid and systemic lupus. Research conducted in the 1920s and 1930s led to the first detailed pathologic descriptions of lupus and demonstrated how the disease affected the kidney, heart, and lung tissue. A major breakthrough was made in 1948 with the discovery of the LE cell (the lupus erythematosus cell—a misnomer, as it occurs with other diseases as well). Discovered by a team of researchers at the Mayo Clinic, they discovered that the white blood cells contained the nucleus of another cell that was pushing against the white's cell proper nucleus. Noting that the invading nucleus was coated with antibody that allowed it to be ingested by a phagocytic or scavenger cell, they named the antibody that causes one cell to ingest another the LE factor and the two nuclei cell result in the LE cell. The LE cell, it was determined, was a part of an anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) reaction; the body produces antibodies against its own tissue. This discovery led to one of the first definitive tests for lupus since LE cells are found in approximately 60% of all people diagnosed with lupus. The LE cell test is rarely performed as a definitive lupus test today as LE cells do not always occur in people with SLE and can occur in individuals with other autoimmune diseases. Their presence can be helpful in establishing a diagnosis but no longer indicates a definitive SLE diagnosis.
Research is indicating benefits of rituximab (Rituxan) in treating lupus. Rituximab is an intravenously infused antibody that suppresses a particular white blood cell, the B cell, by decreasing their number in the circulation. B cells have been found to play a central role in lupus activity, and when they are suppressed, the disease tends toward remission. This may particularly helpful for people with kidney disease.
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.
A group of people who review, approve, and monitor the clinical study protocol. Their role is to protect the rights and welfare of human research subjects participating in a study. The group typically includes people with varying backgrounds, including a community member, to make sure that research activities conducted by an organization are completely and adequately reviewed. Also known as an institutional review board (IRB) or ethics committee.
Rheumatologists have long been concerned that the female hormone estrogen or treatment with estrogen may cause or worsen lupus. Recent research showed that estrogen therapy can trigger some mild or moderate flares of lupus, but does not cause symptoms to get much worse. Yet, estrogen can raise the risk of blood clots. Thus, you should not take estrogen if your blood tests show antiphospholipid antibodies (meaning you already have a high risk of blood clots).
The CBC is among the most common blood tests performed in the clinical laboratory and aids in the diagnosis of anemia and erythrocytosis; bleeding and the repletion of blood cells by transfusion, thrombocytopenia and thrombocytosis; and infections and leukemias. Blood is obtained for the test from venipuncture or aspiration from an indwelling vascular access or port. It is taken to the laboratory in a tube that contains the anticoagulant ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA).
For instance, a dermatologist for cutaneous lupus (skin disease), a cardiologist for heart disease, a nephrologist for kidney disease, a neurologist for brain and nervous system disease, or a gastroenterologist for gastrointestinal tract disease. A woman with lupus who is considering a pregnancy needs an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies.
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