The discovery of the LE cell led to further research and this resulted in more definitive tests for lupus. Building on the knowledge that those with SLE had auto-antibodies that would attach themselves to the nuclei of normal cells, causing the immune system to send white blood cells to fight off these "invaders", a test was developed to look for the anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) rather than the LE cell specifically. This ANA test was easier to perform and led not only to a definitive diagnosis of lupus but also many other related diseases. This discovery led to the understanding of what are now known as autoimmune diseases.
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).
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.
Sometimes, changes in blood counts (low red cell count, or anemia), may cause fatigue, serious infections (low white cell count), or easy bruising or bleeding (low platelet count). Many patients do not have symptoms from low blood counts, however, so it is important for people with lupus to have periodic blood tests in order to detect any problems.
Most autoimmune diseases affect one specific system. For example, Rheumatoid Arthritis involves the joints, and Multiple Sclerosis affects the brain and spinal cord. Lupus, on the other hand, affects more than one system simultaneously. No matter what organ or system is being attacked, all autoimmune diseases are similar in that they are an immune response caused by systemic inflammation that leads your body to attack itself.
While most infants born to mothers who have SLE are healthy, pregnant mothers with SLE should remain under medical care until delivery. Neonatal lupus is rare, but identification of mothers at highest risk for complications allows for prompt treatment before or after birth. In addition, SLE can flare up during pregnancy, and proper treatment can maintain the health of the mother longer. Women pregnant and known to have anti-Ro (SSA) or anti-La antibodies (SSB) often have echocardiograms during the 16th and 30th weeks of pregnancy to monitor the health of the heart and surrounding vasculature.
Lupus pregnancy deserves special review because it presents unique challenges. Pregnant women with SLE are considered high-risk pregnancies. These pregnancies require interactive monitoring generally by a skilled rheumatologist together with an obstetrician expert in high-risk pregnancies. Women with SLE who are pregnant require close observation during pregnancy, delivery, and the postpartum period. This includes fetal monitoring by the obstetrician during later pregnancy. These women can have an increased risk of miscarriages (spontaneous abortions) and can have flares of SLE during pregnancy. The presence of phospholipid antibodies, such as cardiolipin antibodies or lupus anticoagulant, in the blood can identify people at risk for miscarriages. Cardiolipin antibodies are associated with a tendency toward blood clotting. Women with SLE who have cardiolipin antibodies or lupus anticoagulant may need blood-thinning medications (aspirin with or without heparin) during pregnancy to prevent miscarriages. Other reported treatments include the use of intravenous gamma globulin for selected people with histories of premature miscarriage and those with low blood-clotting elements (platelets) during pregnancy. Pregnant women who have had a previous blood-clotting event may benefit by continuation of blood-thinning medications throughout and after pregnancy for up to six to 12 weeks, at which time the risk of clotting associated with pregnancy seems to diminish. Plaquenil has now been found to be safe for use to treat SLE during pregnancy. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are also safely used to treat certain manifestation of lupus during pregnancy.
There is no permanent cure for SLE. The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms and protect organs by decreasing inflammation and/or the level of autoimmune activity in the body. The precise treatment is decided on an individual basis. Many people with mild symptoms may need no treatment or only intermittent courses of anti-inflammatory medications. Those with more serious illness involving damage to internal organ(s) may require high doses of corticosteroids in combination with other medications that suppress the body's immune system.
One food for people with lupus to avoid is alfalfa. Alfalfa tablets have been associated with reports of a lupus-like syndrome or lupus flares. The lupus-like effects may include muscle pain, fatigue, abnormal blood test results, changes in how the immune system functions, and kidney problems. These reactions may be due to the amino acid L-canavanine (found in alfalfa seeds and sprouts, but not in leaves), which can activate the immune system and increase inflammation.
There have been several diet studies using omega-3 fatty acids in people who have lupus. A 2012 study looked at the eating habits of 114 SLE patients. They found that those who had a diet low in omega-3 fatty acids had worse lupus disease activity as well as higher levels of cholesterol and atherosclerosis (which can cause heart attacks and strokes). Therefore, it is important for people who have lupus to supplement their diet with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, olive oil, or supplements containing these oils. Not only may this possibly improve lupus disease activity, but it may also improve cholesterol levels, which could help to decrease the risk of getting heart attacks, strokes and blood clots.
Patients with SLE exhibit a variety of symptoms depending on the severity of their disease. In some cases, the onset of SLE is sudden, with patients developing fever and a general feeling of malaise (that can be mistaken for an acute infection), whereas other patients experience less acute episodes of fever and feeling unwell over many months and years.
Normally, our immune system produces proteins called antibodies that protect the body from these foreign invaders. When you have lupus, your immune system cannot tell the difference between these foreign invaders and your body’s healthy tissues, so autoantibodies are made that damage and destroy healthy tissue (auto means self and anti means against, so autoantibody means against self). These autoantibodies cause inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body.
Lupus, also known as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE, is a complex disease that can be difficult to diagnose. It affects many areas of body including the joints, skin and kidneys. More than 200,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with lupus each year. Like other autoimmune diseases, in lupus, cells essentially make the bad decision to attack the body’s own cells.
Anyone can have lupus. More than 90 percent of people living with lupus are women between the ages of 15 and 45. African-American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American women are at greater risk of developing lupus than white women. In particular, African-American women are three times more likely to get lupus than white women. Men, who make up 10 percent of lupus patients, often develop the disease before puberty and after the age of 50.
Nitrogen in the blood in the form of urea, the metabolic product of the breakdown of amino acids used for energy production. The normal concentration is about 8 to 18 mg/dL. The level of urea in the blood provides a rough estimate of kidney function. Blood urea nitrogen levels may be increased in the presence of dehydration, decreased renal function, upper gastrointestinal bleeding, or treatment with drugs such as steroids or tetracyclines.
Disease that results when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues. Examples include multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus. Autoimmune diseases can affect almost any part of the body, including the heart, brain, nerves, muscles, skin, eyes, joints, lungs, kidneys, glands, the digestive tract, and blood vessels. The classic sign of an autoimmune disease is inflammation, which can cause redness, heat, pain, and swelling.
An intravenous pyelogram (IVP) is a special x-ray examination of the kidneys, bladder, and ureters (the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder). An intravenous pyelogram is performed by injecting contrast material into a vein in the arm. A series of x-rays are taken at timed intervals as the contrast material goes through the kidneys, the ureters, and the bladder. The procedure helps to evaluate the condition of those organs.
The removal of plasma from a patient (usually to treat an immmunologically mediated illness such as thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura or myasthenia gravis) and its replacement with normal plasma. Plasma exchange therapy can also be used to replace excessively viscous plasma in patients with Waldenström macroglobulinemia. Pathological antibodies, immune complexes, and protein-bound toxins are removed from the plasma by plasma exchange. Immunoglobulin infusions are an alternative to plasma exchange when treating some immunological illnesses, including Guillain-Barré syndrome and chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy.
Lupus is diagnosed when a person has several features of the disease (including symptoms, findings on examination, and blood test abnormalities). The American College of Rheumatology has devised criteria to assist doctors in making the correct diagnosis of lupus. A person should have at least four of the following 11 criteria, either at the same time or one after the other, to be classified as having lupus. These criteria include:
The loss of self-tolerance is believed to be due to many hereditary and environmental factors and occurs when autoantigens are damaged, when they link with a foreign antigen, when the structure of a autoantigen is very similar to that of a foreign antigen (molecular mimicry), or when autoreactive T cells are not adequately controlled or are activated by nonspecific antigens. The changes in the appearance of the autoantigen or activation of autoreactive T-cells result in autoantigens being perceived as foreign. Inflammation and destruction of the tissues bearing the antigen occur because of the production of autoantibodies by B cells or the cytotoxicity of autoreactive T cells, which attack the autoantigens.
Corticosteroids and immune suppressants: Patients with serious or life-threatening problems such as kidney inflammation, lung or heart involvement, and central nervous system symptoms need more “aggressive” (stronger) treatment. This may include high-dose corticosteroids such as prednisone (Deltasone and others) and drugs that suppress the immune system. Immune suppressants include azathioprine (Imuran), cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan), and cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune). Recently mycophenolate mofetil has been used to treat severe kidney disease in lupus – referred to as lupus nephritis.
Hormonal mechanisms could explain the increased incidence of SLE in females. The onset of SLE could be attributed to the elevated hydroxylation of estrogen and the abnormally decreased levels of androgens in females. In addition, differences in GnRH signalling have also shown to contribute to the onset of SLE. While females are more likely to relapse than males, the intensity of these relapses is the same for both sexes.
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are used preventively to reduce the incidence of flares, the progress of the disease, and the need for steroid use; when flares occur, they are treated with corticosteroids. DMARDs commonly in use are antimalarials such as hydroxychloroquine and immunosuppressants (e.g. methotrexate and azathioprine). Hydroxychloroquine is an FDA-approved antimalarial used for constitutional, cutaneous, and articular manifestations. Hydroxychloroquine has relatively few side effects, and there is evidence that it improves survival among people who have SLE. Cyclophosphamide is used for severe glomerulonephritis or other organ-damaging complications. Mycophenolic acid is also used for treatment of lupus nephritis, but it is not FDA-approved for this indication, and FDA is investigating reports that it may be associated with birth defects when used by pregnant women.
Individual test results can also vary from one visit to another, which can be very confusing. A doctor will take into consideration a combination of factors as well as the test results when diagnosing lupus, and because of this, we encourage you inquire about the ANA and DNA testing, which doctors are often reluctant to give. These two tests together can create a clearer picture of whether the diagnosis could be lupus. Again, we must remind you that just because you test negative today, it does not mean that you won’t test positive tomorrow.
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Take a good multivitamin/multimineral supplement with recommended dosages of antioxidants. To help address inflammation, increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids by eating sardines or other oily fish (salmon, herring, mackerel) three times a week or supplementing with fish oil. Freshly ground flaxseeds (grind two tablespoons a day and sprinkle over cereals or salads) can also help decrease inflammation. Other dietary strategies include avoiding polyunsaturated vegetable oils (safflower, sunflower, corn, etc.), margarine, vegetable shortening, and all products made with partially hydrogenated oils. Eat a low-protein, plant-based diet that excludes all products made from cows’ milk, be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables (with the exception of alfalfa sprouts, which contain the amino acid L-canavanine that can worsen autoimmunity.)
We acknowledge as a limitation that certainty of the evidence was not as high as desirable for most recommendations and probably biased by few randomised clinical trials. Although regional information was published on several topics1 4 10 11 23 24 31–49 we recognise that these guidelines should be updated as research-based changes in our understanding of SLE emerge. Regardless, the publication of these guidelines must be followed by health system engagement and implementation by specialists, major steps towards improvement of lupus treatment in Latin America and low/middle-income countries.
Other sets of criteria, known as disease activity indices, exist for the monitoring of lupus. These forms allow a physician examining a patient to check for the improvement or worsening of the disease. These forms include the BILAG (British Isles Lupus Assessment Group Index), SLEDAI (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Activity Index), SLAM (Systemic Lupus Activity Measure), ECLAM (European Consensus Lupus Activity Measurement), and the Lupus Activity Index (LAI). Sometimes these indices will show no signs of lupus, even when the patient feels badly. This is because some of the problems that occur in lupus, such as chronic fatigue and pain, are not tracked by the indices. Instead, these symptoms represent a co-occuring problem called fibromyalgia.
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
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.
To minimize complications in pregnancy, SLE ideally should be well controlled for at least 4-6 months before conception. Obstetricians who handle high-risk pregnancies should optimally offer pregnancy planning consultation and monitor all pregnancies in patients with SLE. Suggestions for treatment of SLE during pregnancy are also included in the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) recommendations. High-dose aspirin and NSAIDs should be avoided in later pregnancy.
In some cases, your doctor may want to do a biopsy of the tissue of any organs that seem to be involved in your symptoms. This is usually your skin or kidney but could be another organ. The tissue can then be tested to see the amount of inflammation there is and how much damage your organ has sustained. Other tests can show if you have autoimmune antibodies and whether they're related to lupus or something else.
In this presentation, Ms. Everett covers the relationship of diet and nutritional considerations and lupus, osteoporosis, medication side effects, and vitamins and supplements. This is the first of a two-part presentation. In Part II, Ms. Everett will focus more specifically on nutrition and the importance of heart health and kidney health for people with lupus. Before beginning the presentation, Ms. Everett highlighted that nutrition has become an important area of research in regard to lupus.
Anemia is common in children with SLE and develops in about 50% of cases. Low platelet and white blood cell counts may be due to the disease or a side effect of pharmacological treatment. People with SLE may have an association with antiphospholipid antibody syndrome (a thrombotic disorder), wherein autoantibodies to phospholipids are present in their serum. Abnormalities associated with antiphospholipid antibody syndrome include a paradoxical prolonged partial thromboplastin time (which usually occurs in hemorrhagic disorders) and a positive test for antiphospholipid antibodies; the combination of such findings have earned the term "lupus anticoagulant-positive". Another autoantibody finding in SLE is the anti-cardiolipin antibody, which can cause a false positive test for syphilis.
A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids may help to mitigate inflammation. Although omega-3s have not been adequately studied in lupus, studies of the general population suggest that these essential fatty acids may also boost mood and improve cardiovascular health. Fish, nuts, and flax are excellent sources of omega-3s and can be easily incorporated into everyday meals. Try to avoid saturated fats, such as those in beef and fried snack foods, since these fats are known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and may actually stimulate the immune system.
Limitations of the test: Although almost all people with lupus have the antibody, a positive result doesn't necessarily indicate lupus. Positive results are often seen with some other diseases and in a smaller percentage of people without lupus or other autoimmune disorders. So a positive ANA by itself is not enough for a lupus diagnosis. Doctors must consider the result of this test along with other criteria.
“It’s always difficult for children and parents to live with the idea that lupus is chronic,” says Pascual. That means the child has many more years worth of living with the condition than if he or she were diagnosed later in life. And because this disease is lifelong and may involve complications such as nephritis, doctors need to manage it aggressively.
Corticosteroids may also be used to get rid of lupus flares, or the appearance of symptoms after a period of remission, says Francis Luk, MD, an assistant professor of rheumatology and immunology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “Depending on severity and type of flare and how many flares the patient has recently experienced, rheumatologists may adjust medications,” he adds.
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