Why the test is used: Abnormalities in blood cell counts, including white blood cells and red blood cells, may occur in people with lupus. This may be related to the lupus, lupus treatments, or infection. For example, leukopenia, a decrease in the number of white blood cells, is found in about 50% of people with lupus. Thrombocytopenia, or a low platelet count, occurs in about 50% of people with lupus, as well. Doctors can use this test to monitor these potentially serious problems.
If you have lupus you may have noticed that certain foods tend to lead to lupus flares. A lupus flare is a period when the symptoms of lupus become more active. Kathleen LaPlant, of Cape Cod, Mass., was diagnosed with systemic lupus several years ago. "I have learned to be careful with foods that seem to trigger lupus symptoms. The biggest trigger for me has been fried foods. I have had to eliminate these from my diet," says LaPlant. It is hard to predict which foods may trigger a lupus flare, but you can start by paying close attention to your diet. If a particular type of food repeatedly causes problems, try taking it out of your diet and see if it makes a difference.
The rate of SLE varies between countries, ethnicity, and sex, and changes over time. In the United States, one estimate of the rate of SLE is 53 per 100,000; other estimates range from 322,000 to over 1 million. In Northern Europe the rate is about 40 per 100,000 people. SLE occurs more frequently and with greater severity among those of non-European descent. That rate has been found to be as high as 159 per 100,000 among those of Afro-Caribbean descent. Childhood-onset systemic lupus erythematosus generally presents between the ages of 3 and 15 and is four times more common in girls.
Contraception and family planning are important considerations given the risks of disease flare with exogenous estrogens and pregnancy and with the teratogenic risks of some SLE drugs. Estrogen therapies have typically been avoided to prevent disease flares; progesterone-only contraception is more often considered.  However, studies have suggested that oral estrogen-containing contraceptives may not be associated with disease flares or thrombosis risk in patients with mild lupus without antiphospholipid antibodies. [52, 145]
A healthy diet is important in general, but perhaps even more so for the roughly 1 million Americans and 3 million people worldwide who suffer from systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).1 Because of the multifaceted challenges presented by the disease, consuming adequate amounts of the right nutrients — and limiting others — can help relieve symptoms and improve outcomes.
Blood and urine tests. The antinuclear antibody (ANA) test can show if your immune system is more likely to make the autoantibodies of lupus. Most people with lupus test positive for ANA. But, a positive ANA does not always mean you have lupus. If you test positive for ANA, your doctor will likely order more tests for antibodies that are specific to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migraines. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (e.g., rash), and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks; laboratory testing is helpful if used correctly and performed with validated methods. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. Steps to prevent Lyme disease include using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, applying pesticides, and reducing tick habitat. The ticks that transmit Lyme disease can occasionally transmit other tickborne diseases as well.
Rheumatologists have long been concerned that the female hormone estrogen or treatment with estrogen may cause or worsen lupus. Recent research showed that estrogen therapy can trigger some mild or moderate flares of lupus, but does not cause symptoms to get much worse. Yet, estrogen can raise the risk of blood clots. Thus, you should not take estrogen if your blood tests show antiphospholipid antibodies (meaning you already have a high risk of blood clots).
An antinuclear antibody (ANA) test is a sensitive screening tool used to detect autoimmune diseases, including lupus. Antinuclear antibodies (ANAs) are antibodies that are directed against certain structures within a cell's nucleus (thus, antinuclear antibody). ANAs are found in particular patterns in people with autoimmune diseases (those in which a person's immune system works against his or her own body).
The erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test is a blood test that measures inflammation in your body and is used to help diagnose conditions associated with acute and chronic inflammation, including lupus. It is usually used in conjunction with other tests, as the test itself is nonspecific. In other words, it can detect increases in inflammation, but it doesn't pinpoint where the inflammation is or point to a specific disease. Other conditions can affect outcomes of the test as well. The test is one that is usually conducted several times over a certain period to measure changes in inflammation.
The variety of symptoms that lupus can bring on can make it tough to spot. Another reason the disease can be difficult to identify is that some of its most common symptoms — such as fatigue, headaches, joint pain, swelling, and fever — occur in a lot of other illnesses, too. Lupus can imitate rheumatoid arthritis, blood disorders, fibromyalgia, diabetes, thyroid problems, and more, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. (1)
If you have lupus, you may experience dry mouth. Your eyes may feel gritty and dry, too. That’s because some people with lupus develop Sjogren’s disease, another autoimmune disorder. Sjogren’s causes the glands responsible for tears and saliva to malfunction, and lymphocytes can accumulate in the glands. In some cases, women with lupus and Sjogren’s may also experience dryness of the vagina and skin.
Mercury is toxic to our bodies and can be one piece of the puzzle for those with lupus and other chronic illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome, other autoimmune diseases, neurological disorders, and cancer. Mercury overload is far more common than many people think. We’re exposed to mercury in our air and water, the fish we eat, amalgam fillings, cosmetics, and vaccines. I recommend heavy metal testing for all of my patients with autoimmunity, using a pre- and post-DMPS urine challenge test. I also recommend that anyone with mercury amalgam fillings find a biological dentist and have them removed.
Dermatomyositis (DM) and polymyositis (PM): While almost all people with lupus have a positive ANA test, only around 30 percent of people with DM and PM do. Many of the physical symptoms are different as well. For instance, people with DM and PM don't have the mouth ulcers, kidney inflammation, arthritis, and blood abnormalities that people with lupus do.
Approximately 20% of people with SLE have clinically significant levels of antiphospholipid antibodies, which are associated with antiphospholipid syndrome. Antiphospholipid syndrome is also related to the onset of neural lupus symptoms in the brain. In this form of the disease the cause is very different from lupus: thromboses (blood clots or "sticky blood") form in blood vessels, which prove to be fatal if they move within the blood stream. If the thromboses migrate to the brain, they can potentially cause a stroke by blocking the blood supply to the brain.
The cause of lupus remains unknown, but there is solid evidence that genetics, epigenetics (changes in chromosomes that affect gene activity), environmental factors, viruses and infections play a role. Further study of these variables is expected to improve our understanding of causes, which should lead to improved diagnosis, prognosis, prevention, and treatment.
In SLE patients with serious brain (lupus cerebritis) or kidney disease (lupus nephritis), plasmapheresis is sometimes used to remove antibodies and other immune substances from the blood to suppress immunity. Plasmapheresis is a process of removing blood and passing the blood through a filtering machine, then returning the blood to the body with its antibodies removed. Rarely, people with SLE can develop seriously low platelet levels, thereby increasing the risk of excessive and spontaneous bleeding. Since the spleen is believed to be the major site of platelet destruction, surgical removal of the spleen is sometimes performed to improve platelet levels. Other treatments have included plasmapheresis and the use of male hormones.
Over half of the people with SLE develop a characteristic red, flat facial rash over the bridge of their nose. Because of its shape, it is frequently referred to as the "butterfly rash" of SLE. The rash is painless and does not itch. The facial rash, along with inflammation in other organs, can be precipitated or worsened by exposure to sunlight, a condition called photosensitivity. This photosensitivity can be accompanied by worsening of inflammation throughout the body, called a "flare" of the disease.
Because the symptoms of lupus can mimic so many other health problems, you may need patience while waiting for a diagnosis. Your doctor must rule out a number of other illnesses before diagnosing lupus. You may need to see a number of specialists such as doctors who treat kidney problems (nephrologists), blood disorders (hematologists) or nervous system disorders (neurologists) depending on your symptoms to help with diagnosis and treatment.
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