The cause of lupus remains unknown, but there is solid evidence that genetics, epigenetics (changes in chromosomes that affect gene activity), environmental factors, viruses and infections play a role. Further study of these variables is expected to improve our understanding of causes, which should lead to improved diagnosis, prognosis, prevention, and treatment.
Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) is an antimalarial medication found to be particularly effective for SLE people with fatigue, skin involvement, and joint disease. Consistently taking Plaquenil can prevent flare-ups of lupus. Side effects are uncommon but include diarrhea, upset stomach, and eye-pigment changes. Eye-pigment changes are rare but require monitoring by an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) during treatment with Plaquenil. Researchers have found that Plaquenil significantly decreased the frequency of abnormal blood clots in people with systemic lupus. Moreover, the effect seemed independent of immune suppression, implying that Plaquenil can directly act to prevent the blood clots. This fascinating study highlights an important reason for people and doctors to consider Plaquenil for long-term use, especially for those SLE people who are at some risk for blood clots in veins and arteries, such as those with phospholipid antibodies (cardiolipin antibodies, lupus anticoagulant, and false-positive venereal disease research laboratory test). This means not only that Plaquenil reduces the chance for re-flares of SLE, but it can also be beneficial in thinning the blood to prevent abnormal excessive blood clotting. Plaquenil is commonly used in combination with other treatments for lupus.
Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, hydrocortisone, methylprednisolone, and dexamethasone, are related to cortisol, which is a natural anti-inflammatory hormone. They work by rapidly suppressing inflammation. Corticosteroids can be given by mouth, in creams applied to the skin, by injection, or by intravenous (IV) infusion (dripping the drug into the vein through a small tube). Because they are potent drugs, the doctor will seek the lowest dose required to achieve the desired benefit.
If this disorder is suspected in people, brain scans are usually required for early detection. These scans can show localized areas of the brain where blood supply has not been adequate. The treatment plan for these people requires anticoagulation. Often, low-dose aspirin is prescribed for this purpose, although for cases involving thrombosis anticoagulants such as warfarin are used.
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).
Only one population-based screening study13 of systemic lupus erythematosus was identified. This study reported a prevalence of 200 cases per 100,000 women (18 to 65 years of age) in England. One review14 estimated the overall U.S. prevalence of definite systemic lupus erythematosus plus incomplete systemic lupus erythematosus (disease meeting only some diagnostic requirements for systemic lupus erythematosus) to be 40 to 50 cases per 100,000 persons.
Vasculitis affecting medium and small arteries, particularly at the point of bifurcation and branching. Segmental inflammation and fibrinoid necrosis of blood vessels lead to ischemia of the areas normally supplied by these arteries. Signs and symptoms depend on the location of the affected vessels and organs, but patients usually present with symptoms of multisystem disease, including fever, malaise, weight loss, hypertension, renal failure, myalgia, peripheral neuritis, and gastrointestinal bleeding; these may occur episodically. Unlike most types of vasculitis, PAN does not affect glomerular capillaries although other renal vessels are involved. The disease is associated with hepatitis B and C.
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.
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate. This blood test determines the rate at which red blood cells settle to the bottom of a tube in an hour. A faster than normal rate may indicate a systemic disease, such as lupus. The sedimentation rate isn't specific for any one disease. It may be elevated if you have lupus, an infection, another inflammatory condition or cancer.
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