Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue resulting in inflammation, particularly of the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels and brain. It develops most commonly in women between the ages of 15-45, and occurs more often in African-American, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians. Men can get lupus too. Lupus is not infectious or cancerous. People with lupus may have many different symptoms affecting various parts of the body. Some of the most common symptoms are extreme fatigue, painful or swollen joints (arthritis), unexplained fevers, skin rashes and kidney problems. Lupus is characterized by “flares” or periods of illness and remission. Warning signs of a flare can be increased fatigue, pain, rash, fever, abdominal discomfort, headache or dizziness. Learning how to recognize these signs can help people maintain better health and reduce or ward off a flare. Currently, there is no cure for lupus but it can be managed effectively with drugs, and most people with lupus lead an active, healthy life.
For some patients whose kidneys or central nervous systems are affected by lupus, a type of drug called an immunosuppressive may be used. Immunosuppressives, such as cyclophosphamide and mycophenolate mofetil, restrain the overactive immune system by blocking the production of immune cells. These drugs may be given by mouth or by IV infusion. The risk for side effects increases with the length of treatment.

No single finding qualifies an individual as having SLE. Instead, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) has devised certain classification criteria, and four or more of these criteria must be present for a classification of lupus. [The term “classification” is not synonymous with “diagnosis.” “Classification” means that reasonable certainty exists for the diagnosis of lupus for research purposes.] Although, these criteria are currently being updated, they are believed to be about 90% effective. The ACR criteria include malar rash; discoid rash; photosensitivity (development of a rash after sun exposure); oral or nasal ulcers; arthritis of multiple joints; serositis: (inflammation of the lining around the lungs or heart); kidney disease indicated by protein or casts in the urine; neurological disorders such as seizures and psychosis; and blood disorders such as hemolytic anemia, leukopenia, and lymphopenia. Other signs that are common but not included in the classification criteria are hair loss or breaking, especially around the forehead, and Raynaud’s Phenomenon, a two- or three-color change of the fingertips upon cold exposure.
Corticosteroids. Prednisone and other types of corticosteroids can counter the inflammation of lupus. High doses of steroids such as methylprednisolone (A-Methapred, Medrol) are often used to control serious disease that involves the kidneys and brain. Side effects include weight gain, easy bruising, thinning bones (osteoporosis), high blood pressure, diabetes and increased risk of infection. The risk of side effects increases with higher doses and longer term therapy.

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