The immune response is how your body recognizes and defends itself against bacteria, viruses, and substances that appear foreign and harmful.The immune system protects the body from possibly harmful substances by recognizing and responding to antigens. Antigens are substances (usually proteins) on the surface of cells, viruses, fungi, or bacteria. Nonliving substances such as toxins, chemicals, drugs, and foreign particles (such as a splinter) can also be antigens. The immune system recognizes and destroys substances that contain antigens. Your own body’s cells have proteins that are antigens. These include a group of antigens called HLA antigens. Your immune system learns to see these antigens as normal and usually does not react against them.
People with lupus are at great risk of contracting kidney disease. Kidney failure occurs in a minority of patients with lupus nephritis, despite advances in therapy. These patients must undergo dialysis. About one-third of patients who start dialysis during an acute lupus flare will be able to discontinue it within the first year. The remaining two-thirds, and those suffering gradual deterioration of kidney function over several years will require either continual dialysis for life or a kidney transplant.
For some patients whose kidneys or central nervous systems are affected by lupus, a type of drug called an immunosuppressive may be used. Immunosuppressives, such as cyclophosphamide and mycophenolate mofetil, restrain the overactive immune system by blocking the production of immune cells. These drugs may be given by mouth or by IV infusion. The risk for side effects increases with the length of treatment.
The immune system must balance between being sensitive enough to protect against infection, and become sensitized to attack the body's own proteins (autoimmunity). During an immune reaction to a foreign stimulus, such as bacteria, virus, or allergen, immune cells that would normally be deactivated due to their affinity for self-tissues can be abnormally activated by signaling sequences of antigen-presenting cells. Thus triggers may include viruses, bacteria, allergens (IgE and other hypersensitivity), and can be aggravated by environmental stimulants such as ultraviolet light and certain drug reactions. These stimuli begin a reaction that leads to destruction of other cells in the body and exposure of their DNA, histones, and other proteins, particularly parts of the cell nucleus. The body's sensitized B-lymphocyte cells will now produce antibodies against these nuclear-related proteins. These antibodies clump into antibody-protein complexes which stick to surfaces and damage blood vessels in critical areas of the body, such as the glomeruli of the kidney; these antibody attacks are the cause of SLE. Researchers are now identifying the individual genes, the proteins they produce, and their role in the immune system. Each protein is a link on the autoimmune chain, and researchers are trying to find drugs to break each of those links.
Kidney involvement in people with lupus is potentially life threatening and may occur in up to half of lupus patients. Kidney problems may become apparent when lupus patients feel ill with arthritis, have a rash, fever and weight loss. Less often, kidney disease may occur when there are no other symptoms of lupus. Kidney disease itself usually does not produce symptoms until it is in the advanced stages. It is important that kidney disease be diagnosed early and treated appropriately. The earliest signs of kidney disease are apparent from a urinalysis.
Gluten can also lead to what’s known as molecular mimicry. The gluten protein, gliadin, resembles many of your body’s own tissues, particularly thyroid tissue. If you have Celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or a leaky gut, your immune system releases gliadin antibodies every time you eat gluten. Because gliadin looks so similar to your own tissues, sometimes these antibodies mistakenly attack other organs and systems, from the skin to the thyroid to the brain. This case of mistaken identity often leads to full-blown autoimmune disease.
Corticosteroids. Prednisone and other types of corticosteroids can counter the inflammation of lupus. High doses of steroids such as methylprednisolone (A-Methapred, Medrol) are often used to control serious disease that involves the kidneys and brain. Side effects include weight gain, easy bruising, thinning bones (osteoporosis), high blood pressure, diabetes and increased risk of infection. The risk of side effects increases with higher doses and longer term therapy.
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