A. A healthy, young patient of mine once asked me what the chances were that she might one day develop a "terrible disease." When I asked her what she meant by "terrible disease," she surprised me: she didn't say a disease that could be fatal, but rather a disease that could attack every part of her body. By that definition, systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus for short) is, indeed, a terrible disease.
A healthy diet is important in general, but perhaps even more so for the roughly 1 million Americans and 3 million people worldwide who suffer from systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).1 Because of the multifaceted challenges presented by the disease, consuming adequate amounts of the right nutrients — and limiting others — can help relieve symptoms and improve outcomes.
Opportunistic infections can develop, most often in patients receiving chronic immunosuppressive therapy. Another less-common complication is osteonecrosis, especially of the hips and knees after prolonged high-dose corticosteroid usage. More commonly, premature atherosclerotic disease and myocardial infarction are indolent complications of chronic inflammation and steroids.
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.
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.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a complex multisystemic autoimmune disease resulting, oftentimes, in irreversible damage, diminished quality of life and reduced life expectancy.1–3 Genetic and environmental factors play important roles in its pathogenesis.4–8 Disease manifestations and severity vary according to the patients’ racial/ethnic background and socioeconomic status (SES).1 9 10 Data from Grupo Latino Americano de Estudio del Lupus (GLADEL), Lupus in Minorities: Nature vs Nurture (LUMINA) and the Lupus Family Registry and Repository cohorts have demonstrated that Latin American and North American Mestizo patients (mixed Amerindian and European ancestry), African descendants and Native Americans develop lupus earlier11 12 although diagnostic delays may occur.1 They also experience more severe disease, have higher disease activity levels,1 accrue more organ damage2 and have higher mortality rates,1 succumbing mainly to disease activity and/or infections.1 3 13–15
While there is no specific lupus diet, scientists have found that low-dose diet supplementation with omega-3 fish oils could help patients with lupus by decreasing inflammation and disease activity and possibly decreasing heart-disease risk. It is generally recommended that patients with lupus eat a balanced diet that includes plant-based foods and lean sources of protein.
Neutrophils, 55% to 70% of all leukocytes, are the most numerous phagocytic cells and are a primary effector cell in inflammation. Eosinophils, 1% to 3% of total leukocytes, destroy parasites and are involved in allergic reactions. Basophils, less than 1% of all leukocytes, contain granules of histamine and heparin and are part of the inflammatory response to injury. Monocytes, 3% to 8% of all leukocytes, become macrophages and phagocytize pathogens and damaged cells, esp. in the tissue fluid. Lymphocytes, 20% to 35% of all leukocytes, have several functions: recognizing foreign antigens, producing antibodies, suppressing the immune response to prevent excess tissue damage, and becoming memory cells.
Chronic cutaneous (discoid lupus): In discoid lupus, the most common form of chronic cutaneous lupus, inflammatory sores develop on your face, ears, scalp, and on other body areas. These lesions can be crusty or scaly and often scar. They usually don't hurt or itch. Some patients report lesions and scarring on the scalp, making hair re-growth impossible in those areas. Most people with discoid lupus do not have SLE. In fact, discoid lupus is more common in men than in women.
People with SLE need more rest during periods of active disease. Researchers have reported that poor sleep quality was a significant factor in developing fatigue in people with SLE. These reports emphasize the importance for people and physicians to address sleep quality and the effect of underlying depression, lack of exercise, and self-care coping strategies on overall health. During these periods, carefully prescribed exercise is still important to maintain muscle tone and range of motion in the joints.
With the vast amount of misinformation available online, Gibofsky often sees patients who went on restrictive diets that are purported to reduce lupus symptoms, which they may have read about on the internet or heard about from a neighbor. “Upon further discussion, I find that they do not actually feel better on the diet and, in fact, they have multiple nutritional deficiencies that could actually be the reason behind their worsening symptoms,” she said.
While acute pain is a normal sensation triggered in the nervous system to alert you to possible injury and the need to take care of yourself, chronic pain is different. Chronic pain persists. Pain signals keep firing in the nervous system for weeks, months, even years. There may have been an initial mishap — sprained back, serious infection, or there may be an ongoing cause of pain — arthritis, cancer, ear infection, but some people suffer chronic pain in the absence of any past injury or evidence of body damage. Many chronic pain conditions affect older adults. Common chronic pain complaints include headache, low back pain, cancer pain, arthritis pain, neurogenic pain (pain resulting from damage to the peripheral nerves or to the central nervous system itself), psychogenic pain (pain not due to past disease or injury or any visible sign of damage inside or outside the nervous system). A person may have two or more co-existing chronic pain conditions. Such conditions can include chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, interstitial cystitis, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and vulvodynia. It is not known whether these disorders share a common cause.
The first mechanism may arise genetically. Research indicates SLE may have a genetic link. SLE does run in families, but no single causal gene has been identified. Instead, multiple genes appear to influence a person's chance of developing lupus when triggered by environmental factors. HLA class I, class II, and class III genes are associated with SLE, but only classes I and II contribute independently to increased risk of SLE. Other genes which contain risk variants for SLE are IRF5, PTPN22, STAT4, CDKN1A, ITGAM, BLK, TNFSF4 and BANK1. Some of the susceptibility genes may be population specific.
With variants known as discoid lupus, subacute cutaneous lupus, and systemic lupus erythematosus, lupus is one of several disorders of the immune system considered “autoimmune” in nature. These diseases occur when the immune system malfunctions and turns its infection-defense capabilities against the body, producing antibodies against healthy cells and tissues. These antibodies promote chronic inflammation and can damage organs and tissues. In lupus, these antibodies are known as antinuclear antibodies (ANA) because they target parts of the cell’s nucleus. Experts don’t yet fully understand all of the factors and triggers that cause inflammation and tissue damage in lupus, and research is ongoing.
Once remission is achieved, start maintenance therapy with azathioprine or mycophenolate mofetil (ie, use less potent agents relative to long-term cyclophosphamide). The ALMS maintenance trial also found that mycophenolate mofetil was superior to azathioprine in the maintenance of the renal response to treatment and in the prevention of relapse in patients with lupus nephritis.  In the MAINTAIN trial, there was a trend toward fewer renal flares in patients receiving mycophenolate mofetil than in those receiving azathioprine  ; however, these results did not reach statistical significance.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as naproxen sodium (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), may be used to treat pain, swelling and fever associated with lupus. Stronger NSAIDs are available by prescription. Side effects of NSAIDs include stomach bleeding, kidney problems and an increased risk of heart problems.
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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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