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.
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.)
Everett adds that eating fish for protein is particularly good. Fish — especially salmon, tuna, and mackerel — contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are important because they help fight inflammation, she says. Omega-3s, which are also available as supplements, may decrease your risk for heart disease. This may be especially important for women with lupus because they have at least double the risk of heart disease compared with women who don't have lupus, according to a review of studies published in August 2013 in Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism. “Lupus is an independent risk factor for heart disease, so you should maintain a heart-healthy diet that helps fight inflammation and keeps you at a healthy weight," Everett says.
The occasional glass of red wine or beer isn’t restricted. However, alcohol can interact with some of the medicines you take to control your condition. Drinking while taking NSAID drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin) or naproxen (Naprosyn), for example, could increase your risk of stomach bleeding or ulcers. Alcohol can also reduce the effectiveness of warfarin (Coumadin) and may increase the potential liver side-effects of methotrexate.
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.
Many people with lupus will have some form of a rash, says Roberto Caricchio, MD, the interim section chief of rheumatology at Temple University Hospital and director of the Temple Lupus Clinic in Philadelphia. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, as many as two-thirds of people with lupus experience a skin rash, and estimates suggest that between 40 and 70 percent of people with lupus will notice that their symptoms get worse in the sun or some types of artificial light. (2)
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.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are helpful in reducing inflammation and pain in muscles, joints, and other tissues. Examples of NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin), naproxen (Naprosyn), and sulindac (Clinoril). Since the individual response to NSAIDs varies, it is common for a doctor to try different NSAIDs to find the most effective one with the fewest side effects. The most common side effects are stomach upset, abdominal pain, ulcers, and even ulcer bleeding. NSAIDs are usually taken with food to reduce side effects. Sometimes, medications that prevent ulcers while taking NSAIDs, such as misoprostol (Cytotec), are given simultaneously.
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)
Conventional medicine does not look at the body as a whole, instead viewing it in terms of isolated systems, with a separate doctor for each one. Generally, lupus patients are under the care of a rheumatologist and a doctor who specializes in the area in which they are experiencing symptoms–for example, a nephrologist for your kidneys, and a dermatologist for your skin.
Although no one symptom qualifies someone as having lupus, certain clinical techniques can be used to narrow down the diagnosis. For example, a test for antinuclear antibodies (ANAs) in the blood is probably the first tool a physician will use. A positive ANA test does not necessarily mean that someone has lupus; in fact, one out of five normal women has a positive ANA. However, a negative ANA test greatly reduces the suspicion.
The prognosis for those with lupus often depends on the amount of organ involvement. In other words, is the disease targeting organs rather than skin and joints? Survival for lupus patients with central nervous system symptoms, major organ involvement, and/or kidney disease, is likely to be shorter than those with only skin and/or joint disease related to lupus. The most common cause of death associated with lupus is an infection due to immunosuppression, caused by medications used to manage the disease, especially early in the disease.
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.
I just had a biopsy done, pictures taken yesterday. This doctor was very kind, but seem to know exactly what I have but is looking on how to best treat it. I had a Dr. Speigle (specialist) in Santa Barbara never having met him in my life, tell me 22 years ago, 6 months after having my daughter and never having met him this. He walked into exam room and his first words were “Boy you look depressed and you know what you have is fatal”. Went on to tell me how great his life is, wrote a book and on his way on a great trip with his wife to Big Sur. I left that appointment in tears on my way to the car, never told anyone not even my husband. I just thought what an unkind, unprofessional man. I work a very stressful job so I just knocked up the rashes to hives. Well, here I am and I do have most syptoms described for the skin type, however I have had numerous kidney stones and have felt lately like another one is trying to pass. I will have confirmation in a week, but am having 2nd spine surgery in August. This is what made me go in, was to make sure rashes won’t delay surgery as I can barely walk. I have always been active in sports, camping and on the go. I can’t say I am shocked maybe a bit relieved to have an explanation but this morning realty has hit. I believe in prayer and will keep all with this disease in my daily prayers. I don’t drink so at least I don’t have to worry about giving that up, but my husband is Italian cooks that way. Hmmmm………. Victoria from SB Prayers for all of you truly.
Kidney inflammation in SLE (lupus nephritis) can cause leakage of protein into the urine, fluid retention, high blood pressure, and even kidney failure. This can lead to further fatigue and swelling (edema) of the legs and feet. With kidney failure, machines are needed to cleanse the blood of accumulated waste products in a process called dialysis.
Today, physicians treat lupus using a wide variety of medicines, ranging in strength from mild to extremely strong. Prescribed medications will usually change during a person’s lifetime with lupus. However, it can take months—sometimes years—before your health care team finds just the right combination of medicines to keep your lupus symptoms under control.
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