An antibody, produced by B cells in response to an altered autoantigen on one type of the body’s own cells, that attacks and destroys these cells. Autoantibodies are the basis for autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes mellitus. Several theories exist about why autoantibodies are formed. The most common theory proposes that AAbs develop as the result of a combination of hereditary and environmental risk factors that cause an autoantigen to be falsely recognized as alien by B cells; as a result, antibodies are produced for its destruction.
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.
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.
The most serious health risks are cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and stroke. Specifically, people with lupus are at increased risk for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). In some people, inflammation can occur in the heart itself (myocarditis and endocarditis) or the membrane that surrounds it. Endocarditis can damage heart valves, which can result in heart murmurs. When the disease affects the kidneys, patients generally require intensive drug treatment to prevent permanent damage. Lupus also may attack the brain or central nervous system, which can cause seizures or stroke.
Scientists have suspected for years that infections from bacteria, viruses, and other toxins were likely to blame for the development of conditions like lupus. And while they have not been able to identify one single culprit, they have found strong correlations with a number of bacteria and viruses. For example, the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) has been shown to trigger lupus in some individuals.4
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.
It also is known that some women with systemic lupus erythematosus can experience worsening of their symptoms prior to their menstrual periods. This phenomenon, together with the female predominance of systemic lupus erythematosus, suggests that female hormones play an important role in the expression of SLE. This hormonal relationship is an active area of ongoing study by scientists.
In studies conducted so far, African American patients and patients of African heritage did not appear to respond significantly to belimumab. An additional study of this patient population is planned to evaluate belimumab further in this subgroup of lupus patients. However, this difference in response to a treatment may be another indicator of the various ways that the disease affects different patients.
Chronic diseases are noncommunicable illnesses that are prolonged in duration, do not resolve spontaneously, and are rarely cured completely. Although chronic diseases are more common among older adults, they affect people of all ages and are now recognized as a leading health concern of the nation. Growing evidence indicates that a comprehensive approach to prevention can save tremendous costs and needless suffering.
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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