The mechanism by which foreign antigens are taken into antigen-presenting cells (APCs) and broken up. Part of the antigen is then displayed (presented) on the surface of the APC next to a histocompatibility or self-antigen, activating T lymphocytes and cell-mediated immunity. T lymphocytes are unable to recognize or respond to most antigens without APC assistance.
The lupus erythematosus (LE) cell test was commonly used for diagnosis, but it is no longer used because the LE cells are only found in 50–75% of SLE cases, and they are also found in some people with rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and drug sensitivities. Because of this, the LE cell test is now performed only rarely and is mostly of historical significance.
One common early symptom that can be indicative of lupus is a photosensitive rash, meaning a rash that develops in response to sun exposure, particularly on the face and upper arms, says Dr. Kramer. Other early symptoms are unexplained fever and pain, swelling, and stiffness of multiple joints. Complications such as inflammation of the lining surrounding the lungs or heart can also occur early on, he adds.
Elevation of the antinuclear antibody (ANA) titer to 1:40 or higher is the most sensitive of the ACR diagnostic criteria. More than 99 percent of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus have an elevated ANA titer at some point,21,41 although a significant proportion of patients may have a negative ANA titer early in the disease.2 However, the ANA test is not specific for systemic lupus erythematosus. A study41 involving 15 international laboratories found that ANA tests in the general population were positive in 32 percent of persons at a 1:40 dilution and in 5 percent of persons at a 1:160 dilution. Rates of positive ANA tests were not affected by age up to 60 years (the upper age limit of the study).41
The panel judged the observed reduction in pregnancy loss with the addition of heparin to LDA as a large benefit. This intervention was not associated with significant harms. The addition of GCs or intravenous Ig to heparin plus LDA was associated with large harms (significant increase in premature delivery) without relevant benefits. Regarding heparin administration, the panel considered the reduction in pregnancy loss with low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) in comparison with unfractionated heparin (UFH) as a large benefit without significant adverse effects. No additional benefits were observed with LMWH-enoxaparin 80 mg compared with 40 mg.
Research is indicating benefits of rituximab (Rituxan) in treating lupus. Rituximab is an intravenously infused antibody that suppresses a particular white blood cell, the B cell, by decreasing their number in the circulation. B cells have been found to play a central role in lupus activity, and when they are suppressed, the disease tends toward remission. This may particularly helpful for people with kidney disease.
While there is no cure for lupus, there are treatments that can help prevent flares, treat symptoms and reduce organ damage. Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to successful management of lupus. Treatment depends on the type and severity of the symptoms. Like all medications, these treatments have potential side effects. It is very important that you communicate with your health care professional about the potential benefits and potential side effects of any treatment.
The most serious health risks are cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and stroke. Specifically, people with lupus are at increased risk for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). In some people, inflammation can occur in the heart itself (myocarditis and endocarditis) or the membrane that surrounds it. Endocarditis can damage heart valves, which can result in heart murmurs. When the disease affects the kidneys, patients generally require intensive drug treatment to prevent permanent damage. Lupus also may attack the brain or central nervous system, which can cause seizures or stroke.
Another new B-cell-suppressing treatment is belimumab (Benlysta). Belimumab blocks the stimulation of the B cells (a B-lymphocyte stimulator or BLyS-specific inhibitor) and is approved for the treatment of adults with active autoantibody-positive systemic lupus erythematosus who are receiving standard therapy. It is important to note that the efficacy of belimumab has not been evaluated in patients with severe active lupus nephritis or severe active central nervous system lupus. Belimumab has not been studied in combination with other biologic therapies or intravenous cyclophosphamide.
SLE-associated skin manifestations can sometimes lead to scarring. In discoid lupus, only the skin is typically involved. The skin rash in discoid lupus often is found on the face and scalp. It usually is red and may have raised borders. Discoid lupus rashes are usually painless and do not itch, but scarring can cause permanent hair loss (alopecia). Over time, 5%-10% of those with discoid lupus may develop SLE.
“My message to patients is that we can do an excellent job of managing the condition compared to 20 years ago,” says Roberto Caricchio, MD, the interim section chief of rheumatology at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia and the director of the Temple Lupus Clinic at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine. With that said, people should never underestimate the serious effects lupus can have, he adds, which is why working with your doctor to manage the condition is so important.
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