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.
Limitations of the test: Although almost all people with lupus have the antibody, a positive result doesn't necessarily indicate lupus. Positive results are often seen with some other diseases and in a smaller percentage of people without lupus or other autoimmune disorders. So a positive ANA by itself is not enough for a lupus diagnosis. Doctors must consider the result of this test along with other criteria.
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Research indicates that omega 3 fatty acids from fish or fish oils may help manage high triglycerides and heart disease (see references at end of this summary). There have not been any studies, however, that show a reduced disease activity with lupus. Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids include salmon, sardines, mackerel, bluefish, herring, mullet, tuna, halibut, lake trout, rainbow trout, ground flaxseed, walnuts, pecans, canola oil, walnut oil, and flaxseed oil, and are part of a heart-healthy meal plan.
Doctors are tasked with interpreting test results, then correlating them with your symptoms and other test results. It's difficult when patients exhibit vague symptoms and clashing test results, but skillful doctors can consider all of these pieces of evidence and eventually determine whether you have lupus or something else entirely. This may take some time along with trial and error.
An increase in the size of an organ, structure, or the body due to growth rather than tumor formation. This term is generally restricted to an increase in size or bulk that results not from an increase in the number of cells but from an increase in a cellular component, e.g., proteins. It applies to any increase in size as a result of functional activity.
Blood clots are seen with increased frequency in lupus. Clots often occur in the legs (a vein clot, called deep venous thrombosis), lungs (a lung clot, called pulmonary embolus), or brain (stroke). Blood clots that develop in lupus patients may be associated with the production of antiphospholipid antibodies. These antibodies are abnormal proteins that may increase the tendency of the blood to clot.
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.
Thinning hair is often one of the first symptoms of lupus. Hair loss is the result of inflammation of the skin and scalp. Some people with lupus lose hair by the clump. More often, hair thins out slowly. Some people also have thinning of the beard, eyebrows, eyelashes, and other body hair. Lupus can cause hair to feel brittle, break easily, and look a bit ragged, earning it the name “lupus hair.”
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S. have lupus. People of African, Asian, and Native American descent are more likely to develop lupus than are Caucasians. Although it can occur in both men and women, 90% of people diagnosed with the disease are women. Women of childbearing age (14 to 45 years old) are most often affected and as many as 1 in 250 people may develop lupus.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) has been helpful in reducing fatigue, improving thinking difficulties, and improving quality of life in people with SLE. Recent research indicates that DHEA diet supplementation has been shown to improve or stabilize signs and symptoms of SLE. DHEA is commonly available in health-food stores, pharmacies, and many groceries.
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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