Lupus is an autoimmune disease that takes on several forms, of which systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is one. Lupus can affect any part of the body, but it most commonly attacks your skin, joints, heart, lungs, blood cells, kidneys, and brain. Around 1.5 million Americans have some form of lupus, according to the Lupus Foundation of America, with an estimated 16,000 newly diagnosed each year. Anyone at any age can acquire the disease, though most lupus patients are women between the ages of 15 and 45.
People with lupus should know that most rashes, and sometimes other symptoms, are aggravated by sun exposure, so you’ll want to avoid it or use sun protection. It’s critical to talk to your doctor about skin rashes and lesions that you observe, as many are treated differently, and some can be signs that the disease is progressing or changing. You may need other treatments, too.
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.
In recent years, mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept) has been used as an effective medication for lupus, particularly when it is associated with kidney disease. CellCept has been helpful in reversing active lupus kidney disease (lupus renal disease) and in maintaining remission after it is established. Its lower side-effect profile has advantage over traditional immune-suppression medications.
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.
In lupus as the attack goes on, all the branches of the immune system join the fight. This leads to significant and intense inflammation. The cause of Lupus is unknown, as well as what drives its diverse presentation. We know that multiple factors are required, including: the “right” genetic makeup, environmental exposures, and organ specific characteristics. People with lupus may also have an impaired process for clearing old and damaged cells from the body, which in turn provides continuous stimuli to the immune system and leads to abnormal immune response.
Another common comorbidity with SLE is osteoporosis; researchers have found an increased risk of fracture and bone loss in SLE. Experts attribute this to several factors, including glucocorticoid medications that can lead to bone loss, inactivity due to symptoms such as pain and fatigue, and possibly the disease activity itself. In addition, women comprise approximately 90% of people with SLE, adding to their generally elevated osteoporosis risk.5
Lupus band test. Microphotograph of a histologic section of human skin prepared for direct immunofluorescence using an anti-IgG antibody. The skin is from a patient with systemic lupus erythematosus and shows IgG deposit at 2 different places: the first is a band-like deposit along the epidermal basement membrane ("lupus band test" is positive); the second is within the nuclei of the epidermal cells (anti-nuclear antibodies).
I recommend that everyone remove gluten from their diets because it’s simply an inflammatory food, and this is particularly critical for anyone with an autoimmune condition. I also highly recommend that anyone with an autoimmune condition remove all grains and legumes from your diet as well. These foods contain proteins known as lectins, which act as a natural pesticide for crops and can wreak havoc on the lining of your gut. My cookbook, The Autoimmune Solution Cookbook, contains over 150 specially designed recipes to help make following an autoimmune-friendly protocol easy and delicious!
Patients with SLE should be educated to avoid triggers for flare. Persons with SLE should avoid ultraviolet light and sun exposure to minimize worsening of symptoms from photosensitivity. Diet modification should be based on the disease activity. A balanced diet is important, but patients with SLE and hyperlipidemia, for example, should be placed on a low-fat diet. Many patients with SLE have low levels of vitamin D because of less sun exposure; therefore, these patients should take vitamin D supplements. Exercise is important in SLE patients to avoid rapid muscle loss, bone demineralization, and fatigue. Smoking should also be avoided.
Most people who have SLE have low levels of vitamin D and should take a vitamin D supplement regularly. Vitamin D is essential for proper function of the immune system and several studies have shown that people who have more severe lupus tend to have lower levels of vitamin D compared to those who have milder disease. It is advised to talk with your consultant or GP about your vitamin D levels as you may already be prescribed calcium supplements which may contain vitamin D. Some dietary sources of vitamin D can be found HERE. It is important to bear in mind that most vitamin D is usually synthesised from sunlight on the skin, but with lupus you should be protecting yourself from exposure to UV.
When Griffiths et al compared the corticosteroid-sparing effect of cyclosporine with azathioprine in patients with severe SLE, they concluded that azathioprine may be considered first-line therapy, whereas cyclosporine requires close monitoring of blood pressure and serum creatinine. However, the investigators noted that in patients who are unable to tolerate azathioprine, cyclosporine may be considered. 
Although a fever technically is any body temperature above the normal of 98.6 F (37 C), in practice, a person is usually not considered to have a significant fever until the temperature is above 100.4 F (38 C). Fever is part of the body's own disease-fighting arsenal; rising body temperatures apparently are capable of killing off many disease-producing organisms.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as naproxen sodium (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), may be used to treat pain, swelling and fever associated with lupus. Stronger NSAIDs are available by prescription. Side effects of NSAIDs include stomach bleeding, kidney problems and an increased risk of heart problems.
Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.
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