Lupus, also known as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects various organs and tissues in the body. An estimated 1.5 million Americans have SLE. Women are affected by this disease nine times as often as men.
What is lupus?
Lupus occurs when the immune system attacks healthy tissue, mistaking it for a foreign invader such as a virus or bacteria. This leads to inflammation and damage to the affected tissue. The symptoms can vary widely, and can affect any part of the body. Some common symptoms include these:
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Skin rashes, particularly on the face and neck
- Photosensitivity (sensitivity to light)
- Mouth and nose ulcers
- Raynaud’s phenomenon (cold fingers and toes that turn blue or white)
- Kidney problems
- Lung problems
- Heart problems
- Brain and nervous system problems
- Abdominal pain
Diagnosing lupus can be challenging, as the symptoms can be similar to those of other diseases. In addition to a physical examination and medical history, doctors may perform blood tests and other diagnostic tests to confirm a diagnosis.
There is no cure for lupus, but treatment can help manage the symptoms and prevent damage to organs. Treatment usually involves a combination of medication, lifestyle changes, and regular medical monitoring. Several kinds of medications are commonly used to treat this condition:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help manage pain and inflammation
- Corticosteroids to help suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation
- Antimalarial drugs to help treat skin and joint symptoms
- Immunomodulators to help regulate the immune system
- Biologic therapies to target specific immune system cells
Lifestyle changes can also help manage symptoms:
- Avoiding exposure to sunlight and wearing protective clothing and sunscreen when outdoors
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Getting regular exercise, but avoiding overexertion
- Avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol consumption
- Getting enough rest and managing stress
Regular medical monitoring is also important, as it can help detect and manage complications before they become serious.
Living with lupus can be challenging, both physically and emotionally. Many people with lupus experience chronic pain and fatigue, and may need to make significant lifestyle changes to manage their symptoms. It is important for people with lupus to have a strong support system, and to work closely with their healthcare providers to manage their condition.
In addition to medical treatment, complementary and alternative therapies may also be helpful for some people with lupus. Some options:
- Acupuncture to help manage pain and other symptoms
- Massage therapy to help reduce stress and promote relaxation
- Yoga and other mind-body therapies to help manage stress and improve overall health and well-being
While there is no cure for lupus, treatment can help manage symptoms and prevent damage to organs. Lifestyle changes and regular medical monitoring are also important for managing this condition. With proper treatment and support, people with lupus can lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
If you are concerned about lupus, talk with your family doctor or primary care physician. You may be referred to a rheumatologist.