The aim of this review is to provide an up-to-date overview of treatment approaches for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), highlighting the multiplicity and heterogeneity of clinical symptoms that underlie therapeutic decisions. Discussion will focus on the spectrum of currently available therapies, their mechanisms and associated side-effects. Finally, recent developments with biologic treatments including rituximab, epratuzumab, tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors, and belimumab, will be discussed.
Approximately 20% of people with SLE have clinically significant levels of antiphospholipid antibodies, which are associated with antiphospholipid syndrome. Antiphospholipid syndrome is also related to the onset of neural lupus symptoms in the brain. In this form of the disease the cause is very different from lupus: thromboses (blood clots or "sticky blood") form in blood vessels, which prove to be fatal if they move within the blood stream. If the thromboses migrate to the brain, they can potentially cause a stroke by blocking the blood supply to the brain.
It’s been found that low levels of vitamin D might be associated with increased risk of autoimmune conditions and other chronic diseases, according to a report published in the International Journal of Rheumatology. (8) If you don’t spend much time outdoors, especially during the winter, talk to your doctor about taking a supplement to prevent vitamin D deficiency.
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.
SLE is regarded as a prototype disease due to the significant overlap in its symptoms with other autoimmune diseases. This means that it is an important area of continued research and study that is utilizing diverse techniques such as GWAS, microarrays, and murine studies. Further genetic studies of multiple ethnic groups and the creation of disease models incorporating environmental influences will help to increase and refine the understanding of specific genes, linkages, as well as the mechanisms underlying the disease.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a complex and heterogeneous autoimmune disease, represents a significant challenge for both diagnosis and treatment. Patients with SLE in Latin America face special problems that should be considered when therapeutic guidelines are developed. The objective of the study is to develop clinical practice guidelines for Latin American patients with lupus. Two independent teams (rheumatologists with experience in lupus management and methodologists) had an initial meeting in Panama City, Panama, in April 2016. They selected a list of questions for the clinical problems most commonly seen in Latin American patients with SLE. These were addressed with the best available evidence and summarised in a standardised format following the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation approach. All preliminary findings were discussed in a second face-to-face meeting in Washington, DC, in November 2016. As a result, nine organ/system sections are presented with the main findings; an ‘overarching’ treatment approach was added. Special emphasis was made on regional implementation issues. Best pharmacologic options were examined for musculoskeletal, mucocutaneous, kidney, cardiac, pulmonary, neuropsychiatric, haematological manifestations and the antiphospholipid syndrome. The roles of main therapeutic options (ie, glucocorticoids, antimalarials, immunosuppressant agents, therapeutic plasma exchange, belimumab, rituximab, abatacept, low-dose aspirin and anticoagulants) were summarised in each section. In all cases, benefits and harms, certainty of the evidence, values and preferences, feasibility, acceptability and equity issues were considered to produce a recommendation with special focus on ethnic and socioeconomic aspects. Guidelines for Latin American patients with lupus have been developed and could be used in similar settings.
Acute Cutaneous Lupus results in flat red patches on the cheeks and nose called a malar or butterfly rash that looks quite like sunburn. These patches may also appear on the arms, legs, trunk and any other area that is commonly exposed to the sun. Patients with Acute Cutaneous Lupus can also manifest oral ulcers, hives and temporary hair loss. Acute Cutaneous Lupus is more common in people living with SLE.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (S.L.E.), commonly called lupus, is a chronic autoimmune disorder that can affect virtually any organ of the body. In lupus, the body's immune system, which normally functions to protect against foreign invaders, becomes hyperactive, forming antibodies that attack normal tissues and organs, including the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, heart, lungs, and blood. Lupus is characterized by periods of illness, called flares, and periods of wellness, or remission.
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 are more potent than NSAIDs in reducing inflammation and restoring function when the disease is active. Corticosteroids are particularly helpful when internal organs are affected. Corticosteroids can be given by mouth, injected directly into the joints and other tissues, or administered intravenously. Unfortunately, corticosteroids have serious side effects when given in high doses over prolonged periods, and the doctor will try to monitor the activity of the disease in order to use the lowest doses that are safe. Side effects of corticosteroids include weight gain, thinning of the bones and skin, infection, diabetes, facial puffiness, cataracts, and death (necrosis) of the tissues in large joints.
There have also been case reports of patients with severe refractory SLE in which off-label use of rituximab showed benefits with tolerable safety profiles. [120, 121, 122] For example, in a retrospective study of 115 patients with severe or refractory SLE, 40% of patients had a complete response and 27% had a partial response, as measured by BILAG scores recorded 6 months after the first rituximab treatment. 
This screening test is used to detect substances or cellular material in the urine associated with metabolic and kidney disorders. It's a routine test, and doctors utilize it to detect abnormalities that often appear before patients suspect a problem. For those with acute or chronic conditions, regular urinalysis can help monitor organ function, status, and response to treatment. A higher number of red blood cells or a higher protein level in your urine may indicate that lupus has affected your kidneys.
The severity of lupus varies from mild to life threatening. Kidney problems and neurologic complications are more dangerous than the rashes, arthritis or other symptoms. After many years of having lupus, patients may develop hypertension (high blood pressure), accelerated atherosclerosis (plaque and fat build-up in the arteries), heart and lung diseases, kidney failure or osteoporosis. With proper treatment, the majority of people diagnosed with lupus have a normal life expectancy, but many will experience disabilities. Each patient will likely have his or her own specific pattern of symptoms and flares, but the disease can change over time.
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.
To unravel which people with positive ANA tests actually have lupus, additional blood work can be done. Doctors look for other potentially troublesome antibodies, so they will test for anti-double-stranded DNA and anti-Smith antibodies. These tests are less likely to be positive unless a patient truly has lupus. However, a person who has negative test results could still have lupus, even though this is not so in the case of ANA tests.
Most people who have SLE have low levels of vitamin D and should take a vitamin D supplement regularly. Vitamin D is essential for proper function of the immune system and several studies have shown that people who have more severe lupus tend to have lower levels of vitamin D compared to those who have milder disease. It is advised to talk with your consultant or GP about your vitamin D levels as you may already be prescribed calcium supplements which may contain vitamin D. Some dietary sources of vitamin D can be found HERE. It is important to bear in mind that most vitamin D is usually synthesised from sunlight on the skin, but with lupus you should be protecting yourself from exposure to UV.
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.
Antimalarials are another type of drug commonly used to treat lupus. These drugs prevent and treat malaria, but doctors have found that they also are useful for lupus. A common antimalarial used to treat lupus is hydroxychloroquine. It may be used alone or in combination with other drugs and generally is used to treat fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, and inflammation of the lungs. Clinical studies have found that continuous treatment with antimalarials may prevent flares from recurring.
Patients with SLE should be educated to avoid triggers for flare. Persons with SLE should avoid ultraviolet light and sun exposure to minimize worsening of symptoms from photosensitivity. Diet modification should be based on the disease activity. A balanced diet is important, but patients with SLE and hyperlipidemia, for example, should be placed on a low-fat diet. Many patients with SLE have low levels of vitamin D because of less sun exposure; therefore, these patients should take vitamin D supplements. Exercise is important in SLE patients to avoid rapid muscle loss, bone demineralization, and fatigue. Smoking should also be avoided.
Drugs used to treat lupus include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen, alone or combined with other drugs for pain, swelling, and fever. Drugs that work inside cells, including antimalarial drugs such as hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) are used for fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, and inflammation of the lungs. Continuous treatment with antimalarials may prevent lupus flare up from recurring.
A group of people who review, approve, and monitor the clinical study protocol. Their role is to protect the rights and welfare of human research subjects participating in a study. The group typically includes people with varying backgrounds, including a community member, to make sure that research activities conducted by an organization are completely and adequately reviewed. Also known as an institutional review board (IRB) or ethics committee.
An inflammatory response (inflammation) occurs when tissues are injured by bacteria, trauma, toxins, heat, or any other cause. The damaged cells release chemicals including histamine, bradykinin, and prostaglandins. These chemicals cause blood vessels to leak fluid into the tissues, causing swelling. This helps isolate the foreign substance from further contact with body tissues.
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.
Photosensitive systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) rashes typically occur on the face or extremities, which are sun-exposed regions. Although the interphalangeal spaces are affected, the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) and proximal interphalangeal (PIP) and distal interphalangeal (DIP) joints are spared. Photo courtesy of Dr. Erik Stratman, Marshfield Clinic.
This diet is not intended for weight loss (although that can be a side effect). The anti-inflammatory diet is intended to provide steady energy, plenty of vitamins and minerals, and the essential fatty acids needed to maintain optimum health. You could look at this more like an eating plan for life as opposed to a diet per se. It is based on the general concept that eating to avoid inflammation promotes better health and can ward off diseases. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, the Harvard trained natural and preventative medicine physician (as seen on Oprah, and the Dr. Oz show,) there is clear evidence to support that inflammation can be very damaging to the body and he therefore openly supports the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. “We all know inflammation on the surface of the body as local redness, heat, swelling and pain. It is the cornerstone of the body’s healing response, bringing more nourishment and more immune activity to a site of injury or infection. But when inflammation persists or serves no purpose, it damages the body and causes illness. Stress, lack of exercise, genetic predisposition, and exposure to toxins (like secondhand tobacco smoke) can all contribute to such chronic inflammation, but dietary choices play a big role as well.” Both he and Barry Sears, MD, the author of the well-known Zone Diet both agree that this diet can have significant positive results on many diseases. Here are the basics of the anti-inflammatory diet (all versions vary, but this is the general proposal for all:
In recent years, mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept) has been used as an effective medication for lupus, particularly when it is associated with kidney disease. CellCept has been helpful in reversing active lupus kidney disease (lupus renal disease) and in maintaining remission after it is established. Its lower side-effect profile has advantage over traditional immune-suppression medications.
In addition to prescribing medications, doctors may also recommend lifestyle changes to help manage lupus. These may include avoidance of sun exposure and paying more attention to managing stress to prevent lupus flares (periods of time when symptoms become problematic). People with lupus should also avoid smoking to help with heart and lung health, Kramer says.
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