The immune system is supposed to fight possible threats to body infections. However, there is a chronic autoimmune disease called Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), commonly referred to simply as lupus in which the immune system attacks its own tissues, causing widespread inflammation and tissue damage in the affected organs. It can affect the joints, skin, brain, lungs, kidneys, and blood vessels. The seriousness can range from mild to life-threatening and currently, there’s no cure for lupus and it takes years to manage the disease. Women, men, children, and even newborns may experience this, but it is more common among women ages of 15 and 45 during their reproductive years, with about 90% of diagnosed cases being women of reproductive age. Women tend to experience the general symptoms of lupus, but they can also have complications that impact various parts of the body. These complications can include kidney problems, osteoporosis, and heart disease.
Women with lupus can still get pregnant. However, there is a risk of poor pregnancy outcomes (miscarriage) in people with lupus. If you’re considering a future pregnancy, start talking to your healthcare provider several months in advance during a preconception appointment. Your provider may need to adjust your lupus medications to ensure that they’re safe for pregnancy.
Many of your symptoms might come and go in waves often called flare-ups. At times, symptoms of lupus might be mild or not noticeable. Other times, you could experience severe symptoms of the condition that heavily impact your daily life. There are several different types of lupus. SLE is the most common. Other types of lupus include:
- Cutaneous lupus erythematosus: This type of lupus affects the skin — cutaneous is a term meaning skin. Individuals with cutaneous lupus erythematosus may experience skin issues like a sensitivity to the sun and rashes. Hair loss can also be a symptom of this condition.
- Drug-induced lupus: These cases of lupus are caused by certain medications. People with drug-induced lupus may have many of the same symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus, but it’s usually temporary. Often, this type of lupus goes away once you stop the medication that’s causing it.
- Neonatal lupus: A rare type of lupus, neonatal lupus is a condition found in infants at birth. Children born with neonatal lupus have antibodies that were passed to them from their mother — who either had lupus at the time of the pregnancy or may have the condition later in life. Not every baby born to a mother with lupus will have the disease.
- Parts of the body that can be impacted by lupus can include the skin, blood, joints, kidneys, brain, heart and lungs.
- Skin: Skin problems are a common feature of lupus. Some people with lupus have a red rash over their cheeks and the bridge of their nose. Because the location of this rash is the same as the common markings of a wolf, the name "lupus" (wolf in Latin) was given to this disease many years ago. Other skin problems that may happen include large red, circular rashes (plaques), which may scar (called discoid lupus). Skin rashes are usually made worse by sunlight. Hair loss and mouth sores are also common.
- Blood: Blood involvement can happen with or without other symptoms. Individuals with lupus may have dangerous reductions in the number of red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets (cells that help clot the blood). Sometimes, changes in blood counts may contribute to symptoms of fatigue (low red blood cell count, anemia), serious infections (low white blood cell count), or easy bruising(low platelet count). However, many people do not have symptoms that indicate blood abnormalities, so it’s important to have periodic blood tests in order to detect any problems. Blood clots are seen with increased frequency in lupus. Clots often happen in the legs (a vein clot, called deep venous thrombosis), lungs (a lung clot, called pulmonary embolus), or brain (stroke). Blood clots that develop in lupus patients may be associated with the production of antiphospholipid antibodies. These antibodies are abnormal proteins that may increase the tendency of the blood to clot.
- Joints: Arthritisis very common in people who have lupus. There may be pain, with or without swelling. Stiffness and pain may be especially uncomfortable in the morning. Arthritis may be a problem for only a few days to weeks or may be a permanent feature of the disease. Fortunately, arthritis is usually not crippling.
- Kidneys: Kidney involvement in people with lupus is potentially life threatening and may occur in up to half of lupus patients. Kidney problems may become apparent when lupus patients feel ill with arthritis, have a rash, fever and weight loss. Less often, kidney disease may happen when there are no other symptoms of lupus. Kidney disease itself usually doesn’t produce symptoms until it’s in the advanced stages. It is important that kidney disease be diagnosed early and treated appropriately. The earliest signs of kidney disease are apparent from a urine test called urinalysis.
- Brain: Fortunately, brain involvement is a rare problem in people with lupus. When present, it may cause confusion, depression, seizuresand, rarely, strokes.
- Heart and lungs: Heart and lung involvement is often caused by inflammation of the covering of the heart (pericardium) and lungs (pleura). When these structures become inflamed, you may develop chest pain, irregular heartbeatand build-up of fluid around the lungs (pleuritis or pleurisy) and heart (pericarditis).
- If one member of your family is infected with lupus, you have a higher risk of having lupus. This can greatly affect parts of your body. It can cause aches and pains, as well as serious complications to your major organs. This can lead to organ damage if left untreated.
Your healthcare provider will typically start with a family history to see if lupus runs in your family. Then, your provider will want to discuss any symptoms you’ve experienced. After talking to you about your symptoms, your provider will typically do some lab tests. These tests are looking for things like low blood cell counts, anemia and other abnormalities. The diagnosis process can be long and difficult for lupus. The symptoms that you might experience with lupus can overlap with those of other conditions for example, diabetes and arthritis. Symptoms of lupus may also take time to develop, adding to the challenge of diagnosing the disease. When you feel something unusual in you, better see a doctor for professional examination. For all we know, we only have one life to live and seeking medical attention can save us.
NO I Zhalimar A. Jakaria-Patulada
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus)