Lupus is treated by internal medicine subspecialists called rheumatologists. Depending on whether or not specific organs are targeted, other health specialists who can be involved in the care of patients with lupus include dermatologists, nephrologists, hematologists, cardiologists, pulmonologists, and neurologists. It's not uncommon that a team of such physicians is coordinated by the treating rheumatologist together with the primary care doctor.


Research has demonstrated evidence that a key enzyme's failure to dispose of dying cells may contribute the development of systemic lupus erythematosus. The enzyme, DNase1, normally eliminates what is called "garbage DNA" and other cellular debris by chopping them into tiny fragments for easier disposal. Researchers turned off the DNase1 gene in mice. The mice appeared healthy at birth, but after six to eight months, the majority of mice without DNase1 showed signs of systemic lupus erythematosus. Thus, a genetic mutation in a gene that could disrupt the body's cellular waste disposal may be involved in the initiation of systemic lupus erythematosus.
Drug-induced lupus erythematosus (DIL) Some drugs can cause lupus, resulting in symptoms such as rash, arthritis, hair loss, and fever. “Once medications are discontinued, the symptoms go away,” 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.

Changes in ESR over time can help guide a healthcare professional toward a possible diagnosis. Moderately elevated ESR occurs with inflammation, but also with anemia, infection, pregnancy, and old age. A very high ESR usually has an obvious cause, such as a marked increase in globulins that can be due to a severe infection. A rising ESR can mean an increase in inflammation or a poor response to a therapy. A decreasing ESR can mean a good response, though keep in mind that a low ESR can be indicative of diseases such as polycythemia, extreme leukocytosis, and protein abnormalities.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the body’s own healthy tissue and organs. Depending on the specific patient, lupus can cause high levels of persistent inflammation that can negatively affect various parts of the body. Lupus patients often experience tissue damage that affects the heart, joints, brain, kidneys, lungs and endocrine glands (such as the adrenals and thyroid gland). Although it’s not completely known why this happens, lupus risk factors are believed to include: (2)
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.
The male hormone DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), produced in the adrenals, seems to help and may reduce the need for prednisone. Although DHEA is available over-the-counter, don’t take it without medical supervision. It presents an increased risk of heart attack and breast and prostate cancer so it is vital that a physician monitor anyone taking it for lupus. Furthermore, over-the-counter brands of DHEA may not be as reliable as prescription forms.

Aseptic meningitis is a disease caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges. Unlike other forms of meningitis, aseptic meningitis is not caused by infection and cannot be spread person-to-person. Instead it can be caused by lupus, cancers, certain drugs, head injury, and brain surgery, among others. Meningitis is characterized by a sudden onset of fever, headache, and stiff neck. It is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, photophobia (sensitivity to light), and altered mental status (confusion).


Because lupus can produce a variety of symptoms in different individuals, it may take some time for a physician to actually make the diagnosis. Often a doctor will say that lupus might be present, but that the current symptoms are insufficient to signify a firm diagnosis. In this event, s/he will likely monitor the patient’s symptoms, signs, and lab tests closely over time and have him/her return for regular visits.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting millions of people around the world. Often called wear-and-tear arthritis, osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage on the ends of your bones wears down over time. While osteoarthritis can damage any joint in your body, the disorder most commonly affects joints in your hands, neck, lower back, knees and hips. Osteoarthritis gradually worsens with time, and no cure exists. But osteoarthritis treatments can slow the progression of the disease, relieve pain and improve joint function.
EULAR recommendations for the management of SLE with neuropsychiatric manifestations support the evaluation and treatment of these symptoms in the same way as they are evaluated and treated in patients without SLE; if symptoms persist, management of these symptoms as an extension of SLE should be considered. [83, 61] For example, in patients with neuropsychiatric manifestations that may have an inflammatory etiology, immunosuppressive agents may be considered. [61]
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 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.
SLE is an autoimmune disease involving multiple organ systems, a clinical pattern of flares and remissions, and the presence of anti-nuclear autoantibodies. Whereas early symptoms most frequently involve the skin and joints, disease morbidity and mortality are usually associated with cardiovascular events and damage to major organs, particularly the kidneys. Many of the current therapeutic options are considered to be inadequate because of toxicities, accrual of organ damage, and insufficient control of the underlying disease pathology. Improved understanding of SLE pathogenesis and immunology has led to the identification of new treatment targets. Current interest is mainly focused on the targeted immunosuppressive actions provided by biologic therapy. Although the potential long-term beneficial or harmful effects of the new molecular treatments are unclear, their precise molecular targeting may reveal key relationships within the immune system and advance the cause of individualized molecular medicine.
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.
Since a large percentage of people with SLE have varying amounts of chronic pain, stronger prescription analgesics (painkillers) may be used if over-the-counter drugs (mainly nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) do not provide effective relief. Potent NSAIDs such as indomethacin and diclofenac are relatively contraindicated for people with SLE because they increase the risk of kidney failure and heart failure.[83]

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.[92]
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.

Skin . Skin problems are a common feature of lupus. Some people with lupus have a red rash over their cheeks and the bridge of their nose -- called a "butterfly" or malar rash. Hair loss and mouth sores are also common. One particular type of lupus that generally affects only the skin is called "discoid lupus." With this type of lupus, the skin problems consist of large red, circular rashes that may scar. Skin rashes are usually aggravated by sunlight. A common lupus rash called subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus is often worse after exposure to the sun. This type of rash can affect the arms, legs, and torso. An uncommon but serious form of lupus rash results in the development of large blisters and is called a "bullous" lupus rash.
Systemic lupus erythematosus is a chronic, recurrent, potentially fatal multisystem inflammatory disorder that can be difficultto diagnose.1,2 The disease has no single diagnostic marker; instead, it is identified through a combination of clinical and laboratory criteria.3 Accurate diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus is important because treatment can reduce morbidity4–11 and mortality,12 particularly from lupus nephritis. This article reviews evidence-based recommendations for the diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus by primary care physicians.
There’s no scientific evidence that avoiding red meat will have an effect on lupus. If you have kidney disease, red meat can give you more protein than your kidneys can handle. If you have high cholesterol or high triglyceride levels, red meat can raise these further. On the other hand, if you have inflammation in your body you need more protein than when you’re healthy. So the bottom line is to eat a well-balanced diet. If you’re not sure how much you should be eating, ask your doctor to refer you to a Registered Dietitian for a consultation.
For people with joint or chest pain or fever, drugs that decrease inflammation, called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), are often used. Although some NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, are available over the counter, a doctor’s prescription is necessary for others. NSAIDs may be used alone or in combination with other types of drugs to control pain, swelling, and fever. Even though some NSAIDs may be purchased without a prescription, it is important that they be taken under a doctor’s direction.
How an autoimmune disease affects you depends on what part of the body is targeted. If the disease affects the joints, as in rheumatoid arthritis, you might have joint pain, stiffness, and loss of function. If it affects the thyroid, as in Graves’ disease and thyroiditis, it might cause tiredness, weight gain, and muscle aches. If it attacks the skin, as it does in scleroderma/systemic sclerosis, vitiligo, and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), it can cause rashes, blisters, and color changes.
In the United States, systemic lupus erythematosus is reported to be more common in women, particularly black women, than in white men.14,16 One U.S. retrospective study16 of medical records found that the disease is diagnosed 23 times more often in black women than in white men. The prevalence of the disease is also higher in Hispanic and Asian Americans.16 In addition, a familial predisposition to systemic lupus erythematosus has been identified.17-19
People with lupus have a higher risk of CAD. This is partly because people with lupus have more CAD risk factors, which may include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. The inflammation that accompanies lupus also increases the risk of developing CAD. People with lupus are often less active because of fatigue, joint problems, and/or muscle pain, and this also puts them at risk.
Why the test is used: Anti-Ro is found in anywhere from 24% to 60% of lupus patients. It's also found in 70% of people with another autoimmune disorder called Sjögren's syndrome. Anti-La is found in 35% of people with Sjögren's syndrome. For this reason, their presence may be useful in diagnosing one of these disorders. Both antibodies are associated with neonatal lupus, a rare but potentially serious problem in newborns. In pregnant women, a positive Anti-Ro(SSA) or Anti-La(SSB) warns doctors of the need to monitor the unborn baby.
There is no single diagnostic test for systemic lupus. The test you will hear most about is called the antinuclear antibody (ANA) test. This is not a specific test for lupus, however. In fact, a variety of laboratory tests are used to detect physical changes or conditions in your body that can occur with lupus. Each test result adds more information to the picture your doctor is forming of your illness.
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.

Inflammation of the lining of the lungs (pleuritis) with pain aggravated by deep breathing (pleurisy) and of the heart (pericarditis) can cause sharp chest pain. The chest pain is aggravated by coughing, deep breathing, and certain changes in body position. The heart muscle itself rarely can become inflamed (carditis). It has also been shown that young women with SLE have a significantly increased risk of heart attacks due to coronary artery disease.
Information on this website is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. Any third party offering or advertising on this website does not constitute an endorsement by Andrew Weil, M.D. or Healthy Lifestyle Brands.
Other diseases and conditions that can accompany lupus include fibromyalgia, coronary heart disease, nonbacterial valvular heart disease, pancreatitis, esophagus disease with difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy), liver disease (lupoid hepatitis), infections, and a tendency to spontaneous blood clotting and thrombosis.
Medical historians have theorized that people with porphyria (a disease that shares many symptoms with SLE) generated folklore stories of vampires and werewolves, due to the photosensitivity, scarring, hair growth, and porphyrin brownish-red stained teeth in severe recessive forms of porphyria (or combinations of the disorder, known as dual, homozygous, or compound heterozygous porphyrias).[121]
The gene is the basic physical unit of inheritance. Genes are passed from parents to offspring and contain the information needed to specify traits. Genes are arranged, one after another, on structures called chromosomes. A chromosome contains a single, long DNA molecule, only a portion of which corresponds to a single gene. Humans have approximately 20,000 genes arranged on their chromosomes.

So what happens when you grow up and learn that you have lupus, or another equally devastating chronic illness?  Should all of your nutritional decisions now be based on what your body needs rather than what tastes best? Can they be one in the same?  If you are one of the lucky ones, they already are, and this transition is not quite as tough. But for others, the mandate that you should be choosing foods simply for their nutritional value may be yet, another “hard pill to swallow”, so to speak.  Thus, the lupus and diet dilemma.
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 lupus as the attack goes on, all the branches of the immune system join the fight. This leads to significant and intense inflammation. The cause of Lupus is unknown, as well as what drives its diverse presentation. We know that multiple factors are required, including: the “right” genetic makeup, environmental exposures, and organ specific characteristics. People with lupus may also have an impaired process for clearing old and damaged cells from the body, which in turn provides continuous stimuli to the immune system and leads to abnormal immune response.

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Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.

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