Antimalarials are another type of drug commonly used to treat lupus. These drugs prevent and treat malaria, but doctors have found that they also are useful for lupus. A common antimalarial used to treat lupus is hydroxychloroquine. It may be used alone or in combination with other drugs and generally is used to treat fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, and inflammation of the lungs. Clinical studies have found that continuous treatment with antimalarials may prevent flares from recurring.
Neuropsychiatric syndromes can result when SLE affects the central or peripheral nervous system. The American College of Rheumatology defines 19 neuropsychiatric syndromes in systemic lupus erythematosus. The diagnosis of neuropsychiatric syndromes concurrent with SLE (now termed as NPSLE), is one of the most difficult challenges in medicine, because it can involve so many different patterns of symptoms, some of which may be mistaken for signs of infectious disease or stroke.
Lupus antibodies can be transferred from the mother to the fetus and result in lupus illness in the newborn ("neonatal lupus"). This includes the development of low red cell counts (hemolytic anemia) and/or white blood cell counts (leucopenia) and platelet counts (thrombocytopenia) and skin rash. Problems can also develop in the electrical system of the baby's heart (congenital heart block). Occasionally, a pacemaker for the baby's heart is needed in this setting. Neonatal lupus and congenital heart block are more common in newborns of mothers with SLE who carry specific antibodies referred to as anti-Ro (or anti-SSA) and anti-La (or anti-SSB). (It is helpful for the newborn baby's doctor to be made aware if the mother is known to carry these antibodies, even prior to delivery. The risk of heart block is 2%; the risk of neonatal lupus is 5%.) Neonatal lupus usually clears after 6 months of age, as the mother's antibodies are slowly metabolized by the baby.
Sometimes changes in blood counts may contribute to symptoms of fatigue (low red blood cell count, anemia), serious infections (low white blood cell count), or easy bruising (low platelet count). However, many patients do not have symptoms that indicate blood abnormalities, so it is important for lupus patients to have periodic blood tests in order to detect any problems.
The main food to avoid is alfalfa sprouts. Alfalfa is used in cattle feed in many countries and the sprouting shoots of this are sold in some health food stores, but are not included in most packaged salads. Check the label before you buy anything like this to make sure. There have been case reports of alfalfa sprout ingestion causing the onset of SLE. Alfalfa and mung bean sprouts contain high levels of L-canavanine, an amino acid protein that stimulates the immune system.
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.
Today, physicians treat lupus using a wide variety of medicines, ranging in strength from mild to extremely strong. Prescribed medications will usually change during a person’s lifetime with lupus. However, it can take months—sometimes years—before your health care team finds just the right combination of medicines to keep your lupus symptoms under control.
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