ANA = antinuclear antibody; CNS = central nervous system; ds-DNA = double-stranded DNA; ELISA = enzyme-linked immunoassay; ENA = extractable nuclear antigen; Ig = immunoglobulin; p-ANCA = perinuclear antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody; RBCs = red blood cells; RNP = ribonucleic protein; SLE = systemic lupus erythematosus; Sm = Smith; SSA = Sjögren syndrome A; SSB = Sjögren syndrome B.
Because lupus can produce a variety of symptoms in different individuals, it may take some time for a physician to actually make the diagnosis. Often a doctor will say that lupus might be present, but that the current symptoms are insufficient to signify a firm diagnosis. In this event, s/he will likely monitor the patient’s symptoms, signs, and lab tests closely over time and have him/her return for regular visits.
Most patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (unless they’re otherwise advised by their rheumatologist) should be taking an oral antimalarial drug — medications originally used to prevent a malaria infection, but that have been found to help with lupus symptoms, says Dr. Kramer. The antimalarial hydroxychloroquine helps prevent lupus flares, minimizes joint inflammation, and controls fever, fatigue, pleurisy (inflammation of the sac surrounding the lungs), and pericarditis (inflammation of the lining around the heart). The drug is also “the backbone of therapy” for most skin rashes associated with lupus, says Kramer. Mouth sores may also be alleviated with this drug. Chloroquine and quinacrine are other antimalarials drugs used to treat lupus. (3)
Symptoms vary but can include fatigue, joint pain, a red rash on the face (also called the "butterfly rash") and fever. These symptoms can periodically get worse (flare-up) and then improve. Lupus flares can range from mild to severe, often resulting in periods in which the disease is relatively quiescent. Currently, no cures exist for lupus, and treatment often involves corticosteroids, other immunosuppressants or organ transplants. But research is providing hope for better diagnosis, treatments and even cures.
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.
One common early symptom that can be indicative of lupus is a photosensitive rash, meaning a rash that develops in response to sun exposure, particularly on the face and upper arms, says Dr. Kramer. Other early symptoms are unexplained fever and pain, swelling, and stiffness of multiple joints. Complications such as inflammation of the lining surrounding the lungs or heart can also occur early on, he adds.
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.
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