Intravenous immunoglobulins may be used to control SLE with organ involvement, or vasculitis. It is believed that they reduce antibody production or promote the clearance of immune complexes from the body, even though their mechanism of action is not well understood. Unlike immunosuppressives and corticosteroids, IVIGs do not suppress the immune system, so there is less risk of serious infections with these drugs.
It is estimated that more than 1.5 million Americans have lupus. African American women are three times more likely than white women to have it. Hispanic, Asian and Native American women also have a higher incidence of lupus. People of all ages, races and sexes can get lupus, but 9 out of 10 adults with the disease are women between the ages of 15 and 45.
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S. have lupus. People of African, Asian, and Native American descent are more likely to develop lupus than are Caucasians. Although it can occur in both men and women, 90% of people diagnosed with the disease are women. Women of childbearing age (14 to 45 years old) are most often affected and as many as 1 in 250 people may develop lupus.
When lupus starts affecting other organs of the body, doctors often prescribe drugs that suppress the immune system, says Kramer. (Lupus causes the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack itself. Immunosuppressive medications help stop that from happening.) One such example, is Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), originally an anticancer drug. It suppresses the immune system and may be used to reduce inflammation of the kidney, or nephritis, says Dr. Kaplan.
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.
Subacute Cutaneous Lupus can cause skin lesions on any part of the body. These lesions often form red, ring-shaped, scaly patches on the skin. These lesions do not itch and often appear on the chest as well as the upper back and neck; however, they may also be seen on the face and arms. Typically, these lesions occur on areas of the body that are exposed to sunlight or fluorescent lights. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for patients with SCLE to have associated joint disease.
Rates of positive ANA tests are affected by the prevalence of systemic lupus erythematosus in the population. Specifically, false-positive rates will be higher in populations with a low prevalence of the disease, such as primary care patients. Because of the high false-positive rates at 1:40 dilution, ANA titers should be obtained only in patients who meet specific clinical criteria (discussed in the clinical recommendations section of this article). When ANA titers are measured, laboratories should report ANA levels at both 1:40 and 1:160 dilutions and should supply information on the percentage of normal persons who are positive at each dilution.41
In addition to helping with lupus nephritis, these drugs may be prescribed to reduce inflammation of the heart and the lining surrounding the lungs. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) used for rheumatoid arthritis treatment, such as methotrexate, may be an effective and well-tolerated option for reducing swelling in patients with severe arthritis, adds Caricchio. DMARDs are another type of immunosuppressant.
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.
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Most patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (unless they’re otherwise advised by their rheumatologist) should be taking an oral antimalarial drug — medications originally used to prevent a malaria infection, but that have been found to help with lupus symptoms, says Dr. Kramer. The antimalarial hydroxychloroquine helps prevent lupus flares, minimizes joint inflammation, and controls fever, fatigue, pleurisy (inflammation of the sac surrounding the lungs), and pericarditis (inflammation of the lining around the heart). The drug is also “the backbone of therapy” for most skin rashes associated with lupus, says Kramer. Mouth sores may also be alleviated with this drug. Chloroquine and quinacrine are other antimalarials drugs used to treat lupus. (3)
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