Medications that suppress immunity (immunosuppressive medications) are also called cytotoxic drugs. They are sometimes referred to as chemotherapy because they are also used to treat cancer, generally in much higher doses than those used to treat lupus. Immunosuppressive medications are used for treating people with more severe manifestations of SLE, such as damage to internal organ(s). Examples of immunosuppressive medications include azathioprine (Imuran), cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan), chlorambucil (Leukeran), cyclosporine (Sandimmune), and the disease-modifying drug methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall). All immunosuppressive medications can seriously depress blood-cell counts and increase risks of infection and bleeding. Immunosuppressive medications may not be taken during pregnancy or conceptionbecause of risk to the fetus. Other side effects are specific for each drug. For examples, methotrexate can cause liver toxicity, while cyclosporine can impair kidney function.
The NIH: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (2014) suggests that the symptoms may vary dependent on the type of lupus and the person. Symptoms tend to ‘come and go’, ‘flare’ from mild to severe intensity, and new symptoms of lupus can arise at any stage (NIH, 2014). Better Health Channel (n. d.) state that lupus may even become life-threatening, for example, should it damage major organs such as the kidneys or brain.
Lupus is often missed or misdiagnosed because the symptoms are vague and can match those of other conditions. Generally, a doctor will review your medical history and your family history, and look for signs of systemic inflammation. Because lupus can involve the internal and external organs, a doctor will rely on observation as well as laboratory testing in order to make a lupus diagnosis. There is no one test for lupus–generally, many different criteria will need to come together, and it can take years to reach a diagnosis.
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.
SLE is undoubtedly a potentially serious illness with involvement of numerous organ systems. However, it is important to recognize that most people with SLE lead full, active, and healthy lives. Periodic increases in disease activity (flares) can usually be managed by varying medications. Since ultraviolet light can precipitate and worsen flares, people with systemic lupus should avoid sun exposure. Sunscreens and clothing covering the extremities can be helpful. Abruptly stopping medications, especially corticosteroids, can also cause flares and should be avoided. People with SLE are at increased risk of infections as SLE-related complications, especially if they are taking corticosteroids or immunosuppressive medications. Therefore, any unexpected fever should be reported to medical professionals and evaluated.
For instance, a dermatologist for cutaneous lupus (skin disease), a cardiologist for heart disease, a nephrologist for kidney disease, a neurologist for brain and nervous system disease, or a gastroenterologist for gastrointestinal tract disease. A woman with lupus who is considering a pregnancy needs an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies.
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