World Lupus Day is observed every year on May 10 throughout the world to increase awareness of this auto-immune disorder and gather support for more than 5 million people who are suffering from this condition worldwide. Lupus still remains one of the most unrecognised conditions, hence it is the responsibility of people who are unaffected with this condition to join hands and get involved in doing whatever it takes to fight this life-altering fatal disease. This article details on the various causes, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of this misunderstood disease.
Lupus, medically termed as Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a long-term autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks healthy tissues and organs. Inflammation caused due to this condition can affect many different body systems — including the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs.
Since the signs and symptoms of Lupus mimics that of various other diseases, it is often referred to as “disease of a thousand faces.” This makes Lupus quite complex and difficult to diagnose. The preliminary characteristic sign of lupus is a facial rash that resembles the wings of a butterfly unfolding across both the cheeks, but it is found only in some types of Lupus.
There are different types of lupus. These include:
Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus: This type of lupus mainly affects the cutaneous membrane, i.e., the skin and generally exhibits skin issues like sensitivity to the sun and rashes.
Drug-Induced Lupus: This type of lupus usually occurs as a side-effect of the intake of certain medications. It also gets treated once the medicine is stopped.
Neonatal Lupus: A rare type of lupus, this is mainly diagnosed in infants at the time of birth. Children born with neonatal lupus usually have antibodies that were passed onto them from their mothers.
Since Lupus is an auto-immune disease, it chiefly occurs when the body’s immune system goes haywire and turns against the body's healthy tissues and organs and treats them as foreign body. Although, the exact cause is yet to be discovered, studies suggest that lupus can result from a combination of the individual’s genetic structure and the environment. It shows that some people with an inherited predisposition for lupus may develop the disease when they come into close proximity with something in the environment that can trigger the condition.
Lupus can occur due to several factors including hormonal, genetic, environmental, or a combination of these factors. Some potential triggers of Lupus includes:
Hereditary: Some evidence suggests that there is a higher incidence of a person developing lupus if a family member has it
Hormones: Some studies suggest that exposure to estrogen, a sex hormone that females produce more than males, can aggravate the risk of lupus
Sunlight: Lupus skin lesions and rashes can crop up in susceptible people on exposure to sunlight
Infections: Lupus can also get triggered or relapse in case the person has any infection
Medications: Lupus can get initiated in people who are taking certain types of blood pressure medications, anti-seizure medications and antibiotics.
Smoking: Exposure to toxic components present in the smoke of cigarette may often increase the risk of genetic mutations and gene activations linked to SLE.
Certain causative factors that increase the risk of lupus includes:
Sex: Lupus is more commonly noticed in women than men
Age: Although lupus affects people of all age groups, it is most often diagnosed in people between the ages of 15 and 45
Ethnicity: The incidence of lupus is more common in African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans
The symptoms of Lupus in different people occur differently. The characteristic signs and symptoms may come on suddenly or develop gradually with time, and may be mild or severe, or temporary or permanent in nature. In most people, the symptoms might come and go in waves — often called flare-ups.
The signs and symptoms of lupus in a person usually depends on which organs or body systems the infection has affected. The most common signs and symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Dry eyes
- Mouth ulcers
- Malar rash (butterfly-shaped rash on the face)
- Skin lesions that appear or worsen on exposure to the sun
- Raynaud’s disease, ( a condition where fingers and toes turn white or blue on exposure to cold or during stressful events )
- Memory loss
- Hair loss
- Weight loss
If the condition is left untreated for a long time, it can often complicate to:
- Kidney damage or failure
- Complications with the brain and central nervous system
- Cardiovascular complications
- Lung problems
- Low blood count
- Heart problems
- Bone tissue death
- Pregnancy complications
Diagnosis And Treatment
On noticing the above-mentioned signs and symptoms, do consult a doctor at the earliest to avoid complications. The doctor usually does a thorough physical check-up, acknowledges the patient’s past medical history and family history and conducts a series of diagnostic tests to confirm lupus as the signs mimic many other conditions.
Diagnostic Tests include:
- Complete Blood Count
- Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate
- Kidney and Liver Assessment
- Antinuclear Antibody (ANA) Test
- Imaging techniques including Chest X-ray, and Echocardiogram
Treatment plan usually depends on the characteristic signs and symptoms, severity of the case, general health, medical history, and the type of medications the patient is already taking. The medications most commonly used to control lupus include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Anti-malarial drugs