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.
What is known is that lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease (Healthdirect, 2016); meaning, that for people with lupus, their immune system attacks their healthy cells and tissues and not just foreign bodies/invaders (NIH, 2014). Evidently, this can lead to bodily damage. In the most common form of lupus, SLE (systemic lupus erythematosus), nearly all parts of the body can be affected (Healthdirect, 2016).
There is no cure for SLE. Treatments may include NSAIDs, corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, hydroxychloroquine, and methotrexate. Alternative medicine has not been shown to affect the disease. Life expectancy is lower among people with SLE. SLE significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease with this being the most common cause of death. With modern treatment about 80% of those affected survive more than 15 years. Women with lupus have pregnancies that are higher risk but are mostly successful.
Genetic factors increase the tendency of developing autoimmune diseases, and autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune thyroid disorders are more common among relatives of people with lupus than the general population. Moreover, it is possible to have more than one autoimmune disease in the same individual. Therefore, "overlap" syndromes of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus and scleroderma, etc., can occur.
Fertility rates in women with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) may be similar to those in the general population. However, the incidence of spontaneous abortion, premature labor, early preeclampsia/eclampsia, fetal growth restriction, and intrauterine death are somewhat higher in women with SLE, [61, 138] especially in those with SSA(Ro)/SSB(La) antibodies, antiphospholipid antibodies,  or lupus nephritis.  One study suggested that women with SLE have fewer live births than the general population.  In this study, decreased live births were associated with exposure to cyclophosphamide and high SLE disease activity.
Since a large percentage of people with SLE have varying amounts of chronic pain, stronger prescription analgesics (painkillers) may be used if over-the-counter drugs (mainly nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) do not provide effective relief. Potent NSAIDs such as indomethacin and diclofenac are relatively contraindicated for people with SLE because they increase the risk of kidney failure and heart failure.
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.
Another common comorbidity with SLE is osteoporosis; researchers have found an increased risk of fracture and bone loss in SLE. Experts attribute this to several factors, including glucocorticoid medications that can lead to bone loss, inactivity due to symptoms such as pain and fatigue, and possibly the disease activity itself. In addition, women comprise approximately 90% of people with SLE, adding to their generally elevated osteoporosis risk.5
Inflammation of the heart muscle, usually in the U.S. as a consequence of infections (viruses, esp. coxsackie virus, and occasionally as a consequence of bacterial, protozoan or fungal infections); immunological-rheumatological conditions (e.g., systemic lupus erythematosus, ulcerative colitis, hypersensitivity reactions, or transplant rejection); exposure to chemicals or toxins (e.g., cocaine, doxorubicin, methamphetamine); nutritional or metabolic abnormalities (e.g., thiamine deficiency or hypophosphatemia); or radiation. Myocarditis also is occasionally found in pregnancy and with advanced age. The myocardium is infiltrated by leukocytyes, lymphocytes, and macrophages, leading to inflammation, necrosis of muscle cells, and fibrosis. Inflammatory damage to heart muscle fibers may resolve spontaneously or may cause progressive deterioration of the heart with pericarditis, arrhythmias, chronic dilated cardiomyopathy, and heart failure.
Sometimes, changes in blood counts (low red cell count, or anemia), may cause fatigue, serious infections (low white cell count), or easy bruising or bleeding (low platelet count). Many patients do not have symptoms from low blood counts, however, so it is important for people with lupus to have periodic blood tests in order to detect any problems.
Corticosteroids. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, can be helpful in reducing inflammation. Sometimes steroids are used for a few weeks until other slower medications can become effective. Because of their many side effects, the lowest possible dose should be used for the shortest length of time. Usually a corticosteroid is given by mouth as a pill or liquid. However, some forms can be given as an injection into the joint or muscle, or as an IV into a vein. It is important to slowly stop (taper off) steroids instead of stopping them suddenly.
“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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