Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Lupus is chronic, complex, and difficult to diagnose. No single lab test can tell if you have lupus. Many lupus symptoms imitate symptoms of other diseases and often come and go. Your primary care doctor or rheumatologist will use your medical history, a physical exam, and many routine as well as special tests to rule out other diseases. Many physicians also use the American College of Rheumatology's "Eleven Criteria of Lupus" to aid in the diagnosis of lupus. The criteria include symptoms as well as specific laboratory findings that provide information about the functioning of a person's immune system. In most cases, the diagnosis of lupus is made when four or more of the criteria have occurred at some time.
If your doctor suspects you have lupus, he or she will focus on your RBC and WBC counts. Low RBC counts are frequently seen in autoimmune diseases like lupus. However, low RBC counts can also indicate blood loss, bone marrow failure, kidney disease, hemolysis (RBC destruction), leukemia, malnutrition, and more. Low WBC counts can point toward lupus as well as bone marrow failure and liver and spleen disease.
Due to the variety of symptoms and organ system involvement with SLE, its severity in an individual must be assessed in order to successfully treat SLE. Mild or remittent disease may, sometimes, be safely left untreated. If required, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and antimalarials may be used. Medications such as prednisone, mycophenolic acid and tacrolimus have been used in the past.
Electrolytes are minerals in your body that have an electric charge. They are in your blood, urine and body fluids. Maintaining the right balance of electrolytes helps your body’s blood chemistry, muscle action and other processes. Sodium, calcium, potassium, chlorine, phosphate and magnesium are all electrolytes. You get them from the foods you eat and the fluids you drink.
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.
Arthritis is inflammation of one or more joints and it involves the breakdown of cartilage. Cartilage normally protects a joint, allowing it to move smoothly. Cartilage also absorbs shock when pressure is placed on the joint, such as when you walk. Without the normal amount of cartilage, the bones rub together, causing pain, swelling (inflammation), and stiffness. Usually the joint inflammation goes away after the cause goes away or is treated. Sometimes it does not. When this happens, you have chronic arthritis. Arthritis may occur in men or women. Osteoarthritis is the most common type.
For resistant skin disease, other antimalarial drugs, such as chloroquine (Aralen) or quinacrine, are considered and can be used in combination with hydroxychloroquine. Alternative medications for skin disease include dapsone and retinoic acid (Retin-A). Retin-A is often effective for an uncommon wart-like form of lupus skin disease. For more severe skin disease, immunosuppressive medications are considered as described below.
Lupus disease, especially when active, could lead to accelerated atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries) which can develop in young women and could also lead to heart attacks, heart failure, and strokes. Thus, it is vital that patients with lupus, in addition to controlling their disease, exercise and lower other risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
It is important to understand that osteoporosis has no symptoms. There is no pain in the bones where individuals with osteoporosis would hypothetically feel sore, so it is important to speak with your doctor to have a regular bone mass density test performed. Again, there is a high risk of osteoporosis for people with lupus because of often decreased physical activity, vitamin D deficiency, medication side effects, and the additional risk of kidney disease. Listed below are nutritional tips to follow:
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.
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Blood clots are seen with increased frequency in lupus. Clots often occur in the legs (a vein clot, called deep venous thrombosis), lungs (a lung clot, called pulmonary embolus), or brain (stroke). Blood clots that develop in lupus patients may be associated with the production of antiphospholipid antibodies. These antibodies are abnormal proteins that may increase the tendency of the blood to clot.
Common initial and chronic complaints include fever, malaise, joint pains, muscle pains, and fatigue. Because these symptoms are so often seen in association with other diseases, these signs and symptoms are not part of the diagnostic criteria for SLE. When occurring in conjunction with other signs and symptoms (see below), however, they are considered suggestive.[11]

To help doctors diagnose lupus, this list of 11 common criteria, or measures, was developed by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR). ACR is a professional association of rheumatologists. Rheumatologists are the doctors who specialize in treating diseases of the joints and muscles, like lupus. If you have at least four of the criteria on the list, either at the present time or at some time in the past, there is a strong chance that you have lupus.
Lupus can bring all sorts of physical and emotional challenges, especially if you're newly diagnosed. Learning to cope with your disease takes time and practice, and includes things like educating yourself and your loved ones about your disease, taking care of yourself by getting enough rest and eating well, learning how to manage your flares, and getting support.
It can be very scary to receive a lupus diagnosis, have your life disrupted and cause you to become uncertain about the future. The good news is that strides are continually being made in the discovery of better diagnostic tools and more effective medications. With the combination of correct treatment, medication, and living a healthy lifestyle, many people with lupus can look forward to a leading a long and productive life. 
Limitations of the test: Although almost all people with lupus have the antibody, a positive result doesn't necessarily indicate lupus. Positive results are often seen with some other diseases and in a smaller percentage of people without lupus or other autoimmune disorders. So a positive ANA by itself is not enough for a lupus diagnosis. Doctors must consider the result of this test along with other criteria.
SLE can also flare during or after pregnancy. Whether flares of SLE are more frequent during pregnancy is controversial. The flares do not seem to be exceedingly more serious than those in nonpregnant patients, although pregnancy outcomes are generally more likely to be complicated. Increased rates of hypertension during pregnancy, premature delivery, unplanned cesarean delivery, postpartum hemorrhage, and maternal venous thromboembolism are all more frequent in women with SLE.
In addition to the oral antimalarial hydroxychloroquine, doctors may prescribe topical steroids for lupus rash. Steroids or antimalarials may also be injected directly into rash lesions. (8) Topical creams containing tacrolimus or pimecrolimus that modulate the skin’s immune response may help manage lupus rash. Oral thalidomide, which affects the immune response, may be prescribed if other therapies don’t work. Doctors may also recommend that people with lupus rash avoid the sun and other ultraviolet light sources and wear sunscreen.

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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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