When lupus starts affecting other organs of the body, doctors often prescribe drugs that suppress the immune system, says Kramer. (Lupus causes the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack itself. Immunosuppressive medications help stop that from happening.) One such example, is Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), originally an anticancer drug. It suppresses the immune system and may be used to reduce inflammation of the kidney, or nephritis, says Dr. Kaplan.
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.
Anti-dsDNA test:This is the protein directed against the double-stranded DNA, the material making up the genetic code. This test is very specific for lupus, and can be used to determine a lupus diagnosis. One in every two people with lupus has a positive anti-dsDNA test. The presence of this anti-dsDNA can indicate a higher risk of lupus nephritis, kidney inflammation that can occur with lupus. This test can confirm the need to closely monitor the kidneys. Only half the people with lupus have a positive test, so a positive or negative test does not mean you have lupus.
Do you think you may have lupus? If you have shown several of the signs for lupus, you and your physician may now take the next step in determining if it is lupus or another auto-immune disease. In order to make such a diagnosis, the individual must first show clinical evidence of a multi-symptom disease (i.e., the individual has shown abnormalities in several different organ systems).
To minimize complications in pregnancy, SLE ideally should be well controlled for at least 4-6 months before conception. Obstetricians who handle high-risk pregnancies should optimally offer pregnancy planning consultation and monitor all pregnancies in patients with SLE. Suggestions for treatment of SLE during pregnancy are also included in the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) recommendations. High-dose aspirin and NSAIDs should be avoided in later pregnancy.
Arthritis is inflammation of one or more joints and it involves the breakdown of cartilage. Cartilage normally protects a joint, allowing it to move smoothly. Cartilage also absorbs shock when pressure is placed on the joint, such as when you walk. Without the normal amount of cartilage, the bones rub together, causing pain, swelling (inflammation), and stiffness. Usually the joint inflammation goes away after the cause goes away or is treated. Sometimes it does not. When this happens, you have chronic arthritis. Arthritis may occur in men or women. Osteoarthritis is the most common type.
Belimumab, a type of agent referred to as a B-lymphocyte stimulator (BLyS) protein inhibitor, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in March 2011 for patients with lupus who are receiving other standard therapies, including those listed above. Given by IV infusion, belimumab may reduce the number of abnormal B cells thought to be a problem in lupus.
Systemic sclerosis (SSc): Similar symptoms between SSc and lupus are reflux and Raynaud's disease (when your fingers turn blue or white with cold). One difference between SSc and lupus is that anti-double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) and anti-Smith (Sm) antibodies, which are linked to lupus, don't usually occur in SSc. Another differentiator is that people with SSc often have antibodies to an antigen called Scl-70 (topoisomerase I) or antibodies to centromere proteins.
Other sets of criteria, known as disease activity indices, exist for the monitoring of lupus. These forms allow a physician examining a patient to check for the improvement or worsening of the disease. These forms include the BILAG (British Isles Lupus Assessment Group Index), SLEDAI (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Activity Index), SLAM (Systemic Lupus Activity Measure), ECLAM (European Consensus Lupus Activity Measurement), and the Lupus Activity Index (LAI). Sometimes these indices will show no signs of lupus, even when the patient feels badly. This is because some of the problems that occur in lupus, such as chronic fatigue and pain, are not tracked by the indices. Instead, these symptoms represent a co-occuring problem called fibromyalgia.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
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Erythrocyte sedimentation rate. This blood test determines the rate at which red blood cells settle to the bottom of a tube in an hour. A faster than normal rate may indicate a systemic disease, such as lupus. The sedimentation rate isn't specific for any one disease. It may be elevated if you have lupus, an infection, another inflammatory condition or cancer.
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