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Donna Jackson Nakazawa, researcher, writer, and author of The Autoimmune Epidemic, says "patients with lupus do better if they follow an 'anti-autoimmune diet,' which means consuming whole foods, rather than processed foods. This means lamb, chicken, or turkey; fish with low mercury content; hormone-free eggs; organic vegetables and fresh fruits; whole grains from gluten-free sources; nuts and seeds; and olive, sesame, and flaxseed oils. It also means avoiding highly processed foods, including preserved bread products, cereals and snacks, preserved meats, and other foods that are often full of chemicals, preservatives, and additives."
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.
Lupus antibodies can be transferred from the mother to the fetus and result in lupus illness in the newborn ("neonatal lupus"). This includes the development of low red cell counts (hemolytic anemia) and/or white blood cell counts (leucopenia) and platelet counts (thrombocytopenia) and skin rash. Problems can also develop in the electrical system of the baby's heart (congenital heart block). Occasionally, a pacemaker for the baby's heart is needed in this setting. Neonatal lupus and congenital heart block are more common in newborns of mothers with SLE who carry specific antibodies referred to as anti-Ro (or anti-SSA) and anti-La (or anti-SSB). (It is helpful for the newborn baby's doctor to be made aware if the mother is known to carry these antibodies, even prior to delivery. The risk of heart block is 2%; the risk of neonatal lupus is 5%.) Neonatal lupus usually clears after 6 months of age, as the mother's antibodies are slowly metabolized by the baby.
A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids may help to mitigate inflammation. Although omega-3s have not been adequately studied in lupus, studies of the general population suggest that these essential fatty acids may also boost mood and improve cardiovascular health. Fish, nuts, and flax are excellent sources of omega-3s and can be easily incorporated into everyday meals. Try to avoid saturated fats, such as those in beef and fried snack foods, since these fats are known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and may actually stimulate the immune system.
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.
Antimalarials are another type of drug commonly used to treat lupus. These drugs prevent and treat malaria, but doctors have found that they also are useful for lupus. A common antimalarial used to treat lupus is hydroxychloroquine. It may be used alone or in combination with other drugs and generally is used to treat fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, and inflammation of the lungs. Clinical studies have found that continuous treatment with antimalarials may prevent flares from recurring.
Raynaud’s phenomenon is a condition in which the small blood vessels in the fingers and toes spasm, limiting circulation, says Dr. Kaplan. People with Raynaud’s are extremely sensitive to cold temperatures and, in those conditions, will often notice a loss of circulation and loss of color in their digits much more quickly than people without the condition. Raynaud’s affects about a third of people with lupus and can cause color loss in the fingers and toes, which first turn blue, followed by red. (9)
Any of a group of autoantibodies that react against normal components of the cell nucleus. They are present in several immunologic diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus, progressive systemic sclerosis, Sjögren syndrome, scleroderma, polymyositis, and dermatomyositis, and in some patients taking hydralazine, procainamide, or isoniazid. In addition, ANA is present in some normal people. Tests for ANAs are used in the diagnosis and management of autoimmune diseases.
Alfalfa seeds and sprouts, green beans, peanuts, soybeans, and snow peas contain a substance that has been shown to trigger lupus flare-ups in some patients (although not all). Negative reactions caused by these foods experienced by lupus patients can include antinuclear antibodies in the blood, muscle pains, fatigue, abnormal immune system function and kidney abnormality. These symptoms are believed to be caused by the amino acid L-canavanine. (7)
Drug-induced lupus erythematosus (DIL) Some drugs can cause lupus, resulting in symptoms such as rash, arthritis, hair loss, and fever. “Once medications are discontinued, the symptoms go away,” 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.
Some patients with mild lupus, with a little joint pain or rash can be managed with anti-inflammatory drugs such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, says Stuart D. Kaplan, MD, the chief of rheumatology at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, New York. These drugs can also help manage fever and inflammation of the heart and lining around the lungs. (2)
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