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.
Lupus Erythematosus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack one’s body. The disease is characterized by the inflammation of various healthy tissues and organs in the body, including the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels and brain. The severity of the disease may vary because no two cases of lupus are exactly alike.

Lupus is a serious disease that can affect anyone. It is most often diagnosed in young women, between the ages of 15 and 44. While the cause is not known, lupus is an autoimmune disease – in which your immune system attacks healthy cells by mistake – that can potentially damage many parts of the body. There is no known cure for lupus, though effective treatments are available.
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.
Lupus antibodies can be transferred from the mother to the fetus and result in lupus illness in the newborn ("neonatal lupus"). This includes the development of low red cell counts (hemolytic anemia) and/or white blood cell counts (leucopenia) and platelet counts (thrombocytopenia) and skin rash. Problems can also develop in the electrical system of the baby's heart (congenital heart block). Occasionally, a pacemaker for the baby's heart is needed in this setting. Neonatal lupus and congenital heart block are more common in newborns of mothers with SLE who carry specific antibodies referred to as anti-Ro (or anti-SSA) and anti-La (or anti-SSB). (It is helpful for the newborn baby's doctor to be made aware if the mother is known to carry these antibodies, even prior to delivery. The risk of heart block is 2%; the risk of neonatal lupus is 5%.) Neonatal lupus usually clears after 6 months of age, as the mother's antibodies are slowly metabolized by the baby.
Since SLE patients can have a wide variety of symptoms and different combinations of organ involvement, no single test establishes the diagnosis of systemic lupus. To help doctors improve the accuracy of the diagnosis of SLE, 11 criteria were established by the American Rheumatism Association. These 11 criteria are closely related to the symptoms discussed above. Some people suspected of having SLE may never develop enough criteria for a definite diagnosis. Other people accumulate enough criteria only after months or years of observation. When a person has four or more of these criteria, the diagnosis of SLE is strongly suggested. Nevertheless, the diagnosis of SLE may be made in some settings in people with only a few of these classical criteria, and treatment may sometimes be instituted at this stage. Of these people with minimal criteria, some may later develop other criteria, but many never do.
SLE is chronic and complex, and is often difficult to diagnose. First, there is no single laboratory test that can determine if a person has SLE. Second, many symptoms of SLE are similar to those of other diseases, and can come and go over weeks and months. Finally, doctors must look at a person’s medical history, rule out other diseases, and consider both physical and laboratory evidence before a SLE diagnosis. The symptoms of SLE vary from patient to patient. 
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.
Fernández-Nebro A, Rúa-Figueroa Í, López-Longo FJ, Galindo-Izquierdo M, Calvo-Alén J, Olivé-Marqués A, Ordóñez-Cañizares C, Martín-Martínez MA, Blanco R, Melero-González R, Ibáñez-Rúan J, Bernal-Vidal JA, Tomero-Muriel E, Uriarte-Isacelaya E, Horcada-Rubio L, Freire-González M, Narváez J, Boteanu AL, Santos-Soler G, Andreu JL, Pego-Reigosa JM 2015, ‘Cardiovascular Events in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: A Nationwide Study in Spain From the RELESSER Registry’, EAS-SER (Systemic Diseases Study Group of Spanish Society of Rheumatology). Medicine (Baltimore), vol. 94, no. 29, viewed 22 September 2017,

A substance that blocks a type of enzyme called a kinase. Human cells have many different kinases, and they help control important functions, such as cell signaling, metabolism, division, and survival. Certain kinases are more active in some types of cancer cells and blocking them may help keep the cancer cells from growing. Kinase inhibitors may also block the growth of new blood vessels that tumors need to grow.
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.
Testing for antibody to double-stranded DNA antigen (anti-dsDNA) and antibody to Sm nuclear antigen (anti-Sm) may be helpful in patients who have a positive ANA test but do not meet full criteria for the diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus. AntidsDNA and anti-Sm, particularly in high titers, have high specificity for systemic lupus erythematosus, although their sensitivity is low. Therefore, a positive result helps to establish the diagnosis of the disease, but a negative result does not rule it out.46 The CAP guideline recommends against testing for other autoantibodies in ANA-positive patients, because there is little evidence that these tests are of benefit.46
Levels of stress-related illnesses are on the rise, and stress, both emotional and physical, has been shown to trigger and intensify autoimmune disorders. Stress is your body’s response to a threat–a wound, injury, or infection. Acute stress revs up your immune system to help you deal with an immediate crisis, and then calms it back down once the threat is removed. On the other hand, chronic stress (the kind we face in this day and age) leads to long-term inflammation and actually suppresses your immune system. This can trigger or worsen autoimmune conditions, and can lead to the reactivation of latent viruses linked to lupus, perpetuating a vicious cycle.

Useful medication for the disease was first found in 1894, when quinine was first reported as an effective therapy. Four years later, the use of salicylates in conjunction with quinine was noted to be of still greater benefit. This was the best available treatment until the middle of the twentieth century, when Hench discovered the efficacy of corticosteroids in the treatment of SLE.[121]

Management of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) often depends on disease severity and disease manifestations, [8] although hydroxychloroquine has a central role for long-term treatment in all SLE patients. The LUMINA (Lupus in Minorities: Nature versus Nurture) study and other trials have offered evidence of a decrease in flares and prolonged life in patients given hydroxychloroquine, making it the cornerstone of SLE management. [104]
B cells are essential for the development and pathogenesis of both systemic and organ-specific autoimmune diseases. Autoreactive B cells are typically thought of as sources of autoantibody, but their most important pathogenetic roles may be to present autoantigens to T cells and to secrete proinflammatory cytokines. A rate-limiting step in the genesis of autoimmunity then is the activation of autoreactive B cells. Here, mechanisms are discussed that normally prevent such activation and how they break down during disease. Integrating classic work with recent insights, emphasis is placed on efforts to pinpoint the precursor cells for autoantibody-secreting cells and the unique stimuli and pathways by which they are activated.

All of the energy and material transformations that occur within living cells. It includes material changes undergone by substances during all periods of life (growth, maturity, and senescence) and energy changes (transformations of chemical energy of foodstuffs to mechanical energy or heat). Metabolism involves the two fundamental processes of anabolism and catabolism.
Monocytes isolated from whole blood of people with SLE show reduced expression of CD44 surface molecules involved in the uptake of apoptotic cells. Most of the monocytes and tingible body macrophages (TBMs), which are found in the germinal centres of lymph nodes, even show a definitely different morphology; they are smaller or scarce and die earlier. Serum components like complement factors, CRP, and some glycoproteins are, furthermore, decisively important for an efficiently operating phagocytosis. With SLE, these components are often missing, diminished, or inefficient.
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.
Sources:  (1.) American College of Rheumatology. 1997 Update of the 1982 American College of Rheumatology revised criteria for classification of systemic lupus erythematosus. Available at: Accessed: September 19, 2016 [94] ; (2.) Hochberg MC. Updating the American College of Rheumatology revised criteria for the classification of systemic lupus erythematosus. Arthritis Rheum. Sep 1997;40(9):1725. [5]

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.

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.

The term undifferentiated connective tissue diseases is used to define conditions characterized by the presence of signs and symptoms suggestive of a systemic autoimmune disease that do not satisfy the classificative criteria for defined connective tissue diseases (CTD) such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), Sjögren’s syndrome (SS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and others. A small percentage of patients presenting with an undifferentiated profile will develop during the first year follow up of a full blown CTD, however an average of 75% will maintain an undifferentiated clinical course. These patients may be defined as having a stable undifferentiated connective tissue diseases (UCTD). The most characteristic symptoms of UCTD are represented by arthritis and arthralgias, Raynaud’s phenomenon, leukopenia, while neurological and kidney involvement are virtually absent. Eighty percent of these patients have a single autoantibody specificity, more frequently anti-Ro and anti-RNP antibodies. Stable UCTD are considered as distinct clinical entities and therefore it has been proposed to define those conditions as UCTD. Classificative criteria have also been proposed and a work to better define them is still under way.

Research indicates that omega 3 fatty acids from fish or fish oils may help manage high triglycerides and heart disease (see references at end of this summary). There have not been any studies, however, that show a reduced disease activity with lupus. Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids include salmon, sardines, mackerel, bluefish, herring, mullet, tuna, halibut, lake trout, rainbow trout, ground flaxseed, walnuts, pecans, canola oil, walnut oil, and flaxseed oil, and are part of a heart-healthy meal plan.
Lupus can affect men and women of any race or age. One in 2,000 people in the United States has lupus. People of African, Asian and Native American descent are more likely to develop lupus than are Caucasians. In addition, the disease develops in Emiratis at an earlier stage compared to Asians and expatriate Arabs working in UEA. Lupus studies also show racial preferences, being more prevalent among Arabs than Asians in the UAE region.
Sources:  (1.) American College of Rheumatology. 1997 Update of the 1982 American College of Rheumatology revised criteria for classification of systemic lupus erythematosus. Available at: Accessed: September 19, 2016 [94] ; (2.) Hochberg MC. Updating the American College of Rheumatology revised criteria for the classification of systemic lupus erythematosus. Arthritis Rheum. Sep 1997;40(9):1725. [5]
The Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP) is a bold new venture between the NIH, 10 biopharmaceutical companies and several non-profit organizations to transform the current model for developing new diagnostics and treatments by jointly identifying and validating promising biological targets of disease. The ultimate goal is to increase the number of new diagnostics and therapies for patients and reduce the time and cost of developing them.
Lupus is an incredibly complex autoimmune disease and diagnosing lupus can take a lot of time and many doctor visits. Patients will often get diagnosed with other “overlap” diseases such as rheumadoid arthritis (RA), Sjogren’s Syndrome, scleroderma, fibromyalgia or Raynaud’s Phenomenon even before a diagnosis of lupus is made. This can be incredibly frustrating for you as well as your doctors. Understanding the process of getting a lupus diagnosis is one of the most common questions we get here as well as a main topic in the discussions on our Facebook page and our other social media platforms. The goal of this blog is to give a clear understanding of the diagnosis process and provide the tools needed to go back to your doctor (or a new doctor) armed with the information you need.
Anitphospholipid Antibodies (APLs): Phospholipids are antibodies that are present in approximately one out of every two people with lupus.  A positive test can help confirm diagnosis as well as help identify women with lupus who have certain risks (like blood clots and miscarriage) that would require preventative treatment and monitoring. Note that the presence of phospholipids also occurs in people without lupus and therefore, there presence alone is not enough for a lupus diagnosis.

“My message to patients is that we can do an excellent job of managing the condition compared to 20 years ago,” 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. With that said, people should never underestimate the serious effects lupus can have, he adds, which is why working with your doctor to manage the condition is so important.

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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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