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.
Another targeted treatment, anifrolumab, is being investigated in clinical trials and appears to be promising, says Stacy Ardoin, MD, a rheumatologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, citing a study in the February 2017 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatology (7). “I don’t think it will work for everyone, but it’s good to have another treatment option.”
Landmark research has shown clearly that oral contraceptives do not increase the rate of flares of systemic lupus erythematosus. This important finding is opposite to what has been thought for years. Now we can reassure women with lupus that if they take birth-control pills, they are not increasing their risk for lupus flares. Note: Birth-control pills or any estrogen medications are still be avoided by women who are at increased risk of blood clotting, such as women with lupus who have phospholipid antibodies (including cardiolipin antibody and lupus anticoagulant).
Lupus is diagnosed when a person has several features of the disease (including symptoms, findings on examination, and blood test abnormalities). The American College of Rheumatology has devised criteria to assist doctors in making the correct diagnosis of lupus. A person should have at least four of the following 11 criteria, either at the same time or one after the other, to be classified as having lupus. These criteria include:
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.
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.
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.
The principal receptors on animal cells for binding most extracellular matrix proteins—including collagens, fibronectin, and laminins—are the integrins. Integrins, like other cell adhesion molecules, differ from cell-surface receptors for hormones and for other extracellular soluble signal molecules in that they usually bind their ligand with lower affinity and are usually present at about tenfold to a hundredfold higher concentration on the cell surface. If the binding were too tight, cells would presumably become irreversibly glued to the matrix and would be unable to move—a problem that does not arise if attachment depends on large numbers of weak adhesions. This is an example of the “Velcro principle” mentioned earlier. Like other transmembrane cell adhesion proteins, however, integrins do more than just attach a cell to its surroundings. They also activate intracellular signaling pathways that communicate to the cell the character of the extracellular matrix that is bound.
Vasculitis, antiphospholipid antibodies, and renal failure are commonly found in patients with lupus; these conditions greatly increase the risk of developing pulmonary emboli. The diagnosis in a patient with shortness of breath, hemoptysis, and pleuritic chest pain is commonly made with ventilation-perfusion scans or computed tomography (CT) angiography. The CT angiogram demonstrates a filling defect in the left anterior segmental artery (arrow).
Although no one symptom qualifies someone as having lupus, certain clinical techniques can be used to narrow down the diagnosis. For example, a test for antinuclear antibodies (ANAs) in the blood is probably the first tool a physician will use. A positive ANA test does not necessarily mean that someone has lupus; in fact, one out of five normal women has a positive ANA. However, a negative ANA test greatly reduces the suspicion.
Why the test is used: Between 75% and 90% of people with lupus have a positive anti-dsDNA test. Also, the test is very specific for lupus. Therefore, a positive test can be useful in confirming a diagnosis. For many people, the titer, or level, of the antibodies rises as the disease becomes more active. So, doctors can also use it to help measure disease activity. Also, the presence of anti-dsDNA indicates a greater risk of lupus nephritis, a kidney inflammation that occurs with lupus. So a positive test can alert doctors to the need to monitor the kidneys.
More serious organ involvement with inflammation occurs in the brain, liver, and kidneys. White blood cells can be decreased in SLE (referred to as leukopenia or leucopenia). Also, low blood-clotting factors called platelets (thrombocytopenia) can be caused by lupus. Leukopenia can increase the risk of infection, and thrombocytopenia can increase the risk of bleeding. Low red blood cell counts (hemolytic anemia) can occur.
Vitamins. Vitamin E, zinc, vitamin A, and the B vitamins are all beneficial in a lupus diet. Vitamin C can increase your ability to absorb iron and is a good source of antioxidants. Vitamin D is especially important for people with lupus because lupus patients need to avoid the sun, and that can result in lower absorption of vitamin D. Calcium and vitamin D are known to help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, which is common in people with lupus. Your doctor may also recommend that you take calcium and vitamin D supplements to help protect your bones. Current studies are specifically exploring whether or not vitamin D may even help relieve lupus symptoms.
Gene regulation is the process of turning genes on and off. During early development, cells begin to take on specific functions. Gene regulation ensures that the appropriate genes are expressed at the proper times. Gene regulation can also help an organism respond to its environment. Gene regulation is accomplished by a variety of mechanisms including chemically modifying genes and using regulatory proteins to turn genes on or off.
“I have had severe lupus for over twenty years and find that diet doesn’t really change any symptoms. I eat meat, fish, dairy, gluten and sugar too…all in moderation. I eat lots of fruit and veg and avoid processed foods. The only thing I avoid is alcohol. I guess everyone is different but a well-balanced, healthy diet with exercise (when I’m up to it) is my formula.”
Neonatal lupus is a rare form of temporary lupus affecting a fetus or newborn. It's not true lupus: It occurs when the mother’s autoantibodies are passed to her child in utero. These autoantibodies can affect the skin, heart, and blood of the baby. Fortunately, infants born with neonatal lupus are not at an increased risk of developing SLE later in life.
A primary lymphoid organ located in the mediastinal cavity anterior to and above the heart, where it lies over the superior vena cava, aortic arch, and trachea. The thymus comprises two fused lobes, the right larger than the left. The lobes are partially divided into lobules, each of which has an outer cortex packed with immature and developing T lymphocytes (thymocytes) and an inner medulla containing a looser arrangement of mature T lymphocytes.
Rheumatologists have long been concerned that the female hormone estrogen or treatment with estrogen may cause or worsen lupus. Recent research showed that estrogen therapy can trigger some mild or moderate flares of lupus, but does not cause symptoms to get much worse. Yet, estrogen can raise the risk of blood clots. Thus, you should not take estrogen if your blood tests show antiphospholipid antibodies (meaning you already have a high risk of blood clots).
In SLE patients with serious brain (lupus cerebritis) or kidney disease (lupus nephritis), plasmapheresis is sometimes used to remove antibodies and other immune substances from the blood to suppress immunity. Plasmapheresis is a process of removing blood and passing the blood through a filtering machine, then returning the blood to the body with its antibodies removed. Rarely, people with SLE can develop seriously low platelet levels, thereby increasing the risk of excessive and spontaneous bleeding. Since the spleen is believed to be the major site of platelet destruction, surgical removal of the spleen is sometimes performed to improve platelet levels. Other treatments have included plasmapheresis and the use of male hormones.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus or any of the less common subtypes of lupus, you may be wondering about available treatment options and which ones may be right for you. Because lupus is a chronic disease, doctors work with you to manage symptoms — which can range from mild arthritis and rash to problems with the kidneys and other organs — using a variety of medications and therapies. And the best treatment approach for you might change over time as your symptoms and the condition changes.
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