The cause of SLE is not clear. It is thought to involve genetics together with environmental factors. Among identical twins, if one is affected there is a 24% chance the other one will be as well. Female sex hormones, sunlight, smoking, vitamin D deficiency, and certain infections, are also believed to increase the risk. The mechanism involves an immune response by autoantibodies against a person's own tissues. These are most commonly anti-nuclear antibodies and they result in inflammation. Diagnosis can be difficult and is based on a combination of symptoms and laboratory tests. There are a number of other kinds of lupus erythematosus including discoid lupus erythematosus, neonatal lupus, and subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus.
“There are no foods that cause lupus and no foods that cure it, but eating a well-balanced diet may help combat some of the side effects of medications, as well as alleviate symptoms of the disease,” said Laura Gibofsky, MS, RD, CSP, CDN, a clinical nutritionist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, New York. First, the “Western diet,” consisting of an excess of fatty, salty, sugary foods, has been implicated in autoimmune diseases overall.2 Proper nutrition can also help improve the risk of comorbid diseases that commonly affect patients with SLE.
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.
Another recent development is the shift regarding omega-3 fatty acids, which were believed to be beneficial in patients with lupus by decreasing inflammation. “We showed that omega-3 did not affect disease activity, improve endothelial function, or reduce inflammatory markers, though there was evidence that omega-3 may increase [low-density lipoprotein] LDL cholesterol,” said Dr Stojan. “We no longer recommend omega-3 supplementation in lupus patients.”
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.
Heart and Lungs. Heart and lung involvement often is caused by inflammation of the covering of the heart (pericardium) and lungs (pleura). When these structures become inflamed, patients may develop chest pain, irregular heartbeat, and accumulation of fluid around the lungs (pleuritis or pleurisy) and heart (pericarditis). The heart valves and the lung itself can also be affected by lupus, resulting in shortness of breath.
Fatigue is different from drowsiness. Drowsiness is feeling the need to sleep. Fatigue is a lack of energy and motivation. Drowsiness and apathy (a feeling of not caring about what happens) can be symptoms that go along with fatigue. Fatigue can be a normal and important response to physical activity, emotional stress, boredom, or lack of sleep. Fatigue is a common symptom, and it is usually not due to a serious disease. But it can be a sign of a more serious mental or physical condition. When fatigue is not relieved by enough sleep, good nutrition, or a low-stress environment, it should be evaluated by your doctor.
Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate: This is a blood test that is used to determine the rate at which red blood cells settle to the bottom of a tube in one hour’s time. If the rate is faster than normal, it may be an indication of a systemic disease, like lupus. It is important to note that this sedimentation rate, or rate of settling, does not specifically indicate lupus, but can be elevated if other inflammatory conditions are present like cancer or an infection.
In addition to prescribing medications, doctors may also recommend lifestyle changes to help manage lupus. These may include avoidance of sun exposure and paying more attention to managing stress to prevent lupus flares (periods of time when symptoms become problematic). People with lupus should also avoid smoking to help with heart and lung health, Kramer says.
The NIH: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (2014) suggests that the symptoms may vary dependent on the type of lupus and the person. Symptoms tend to ‘come and go’, ‘flare’ from mild to severe intensity, and new symptoms of lupus can arise at any stage (NIH, 2014). Better Health Channel (n. d.) state that lupus may even become life-threatening, for example, should it damage major organs such as the kidneys or brain.
Saturated fats, on the other hand, can raise cholesterol levels and may contribute to inflammation. So they should be limited. Sources of saturated fats include fried foods, commercial baked goods, creamed soups and sauces, red meat, animal fat, processed meat products, and high-fat dairy foods. That includes whole milk, half and half, cheeses, butter, and ice cream.
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.
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.
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