“It’s always difficult for children and parents to live with the idea that lupus is chronic,” says Pascual. That means the child has many more years worth of living with the condition than if he or she were diagnosed later in life. And because this disease is lifelong and may involve complications such as nephritis, doctors need to manage it aggressively.
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.
Get involved in your care. Learn as much as you can about lupus, your medications, and what kind of progress to expect. Take all your medications as your doctor prescribes, and visit your rheumatologist often to prevent serious problems. This lets your doctor keep track of your disease and change your treatment as needed. If you do not live near a rheumatologist, you may need to have your primary care doctor manage your lupus with the help of a rheumatologist.
Lupus can cause problems with the blood, too, including anemia, or low red blood cell count. Anemia can cause symptoms such as weakness and fatigue. (14) Thrombocytopenia is another blood disorder that may develop, resulting in lower platelet counts. (Platelets are the blood cells that help the blood clot.) Symptoms of thrombocytopenia can include bruising easily, nosebleeds, and petechiae, when the blood appears as red pinpoints under the skin. (15)
You may need to see different kinds of doctors to treat the many symptoms of lupus. Once you’re diagnosed, your primary physician for lupus is usually a rheumatologist, who treats arthritis and other diseases that cause swelling in the joints. The rheumatologist may then send you to a clinical immunologist for treating immune system disorders; a nephrologist (kidney disease); a hematologist (blood disorders); a dermatologist (skin diseases); a neurologist (the nervous system); a cardiologist (heart and blood vessel problems), and an endocrinologist (glands and hormones).
Immunosuppressive agents/chemotherapy. In advanced cases of lupus, drugs like azathioprine, methotrexate and cyclophosphamide might be used to suppress the immune system. These types of therapies can help prevent organ damage; however, they do cause severe side effects as well as infertility in women. People on immunosuppressive therapies must be closely monitored by a doctor.
Proteinuria (also called albuminuria or urine albumin) is a condition in which urine contains an abnormal amount of protein. Albumin is the main protein in the blood. Proteins are the building blocks for all body parts, including muscles, bones, hair, and nails. Proteins in the blood also perform a number of important functions. They protect the body from infection, help blood clot, and keep the right amount of fluid circulating throughout the body.
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.
Because the symptoms of lupus can mimic so many other health problems, you may need patience while waiting for a diagnosis. Your doctor must rule out a number of other illnesses before diagnosing lupus. You may need to see a number of specialists such as doctors who treat kidney problems (nephrologists), blood disorders (hematologists) or nervous system disorders (neurologists) depending on your symptoms to help with diagnosis and treatment.
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