Lupus: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

by | Jun 13, 2019 |

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that results when the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissues and organs. Usually, the function of the immune system is to protect the body against infections, but in the case of lupus, the immune system acts abnormally and attacks tissues in different body parts. This activity results in tissue damage. Lupus can be mild or life-threatening and can affect any part of the body, including skin, joints, kidneys, heart, brain, and lungs.

Causes of Lupus

Lupus results from a combination of internal and external factors, including genetic, hormonal as well as environmental factors. The persons with inherited lupus may develop the disease when exposed to something in the environment that may trigger the disease.

Symptoms of Lupus

The symptom of lupus varies from one person to another. As the disease affects different parts of the body, therefore a wide range of symptoms can occur. Some symptoms develop suddenly, and some develop slowly. Some symptoms may be mild or severe which can be temporary or permanent. Mostly, the people with this disease have mild disease described by episodes known as “flares”. In such condition, symptoms may come and go for a while. The most common symptoms include:

  • Tiredness or extreme fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Painful and swollen joints
  • Swelling in feet, hands, legs, and around eyes
  • Sun and light sensitivity
  • Abnormal blood clotting
  • Nose or mouth ulcers
  • A butterfly-shaped rash on the face covering cheeks and nose
  • Chest pain
  • Dry eyes
  • Confusion and memory loss
  • Anemia
  • Hair loss

Diagnosis

Lupus is difficult to diagnose as the disease has a variety of symptoms. These symptoms are sometimes similar to that of other ailments; therefore, a physician may take time for the actual diagnosis of lupus. Different combinations of tests, including blood tests, urine tests, and physical examinations, are carried out to perform the diagnosis of lupus. The various tests for the diagnosis of lupus include:

  • Laboratory tests: include complete blood count, kidney and liver assessments, urinalysis (assessment of red blood cells and protein levels in the urine) and antinuclear antibodies tests to check immune system abnormalities
  • Chest X-ray: shows the inflammation or abnormal fluid in the lungs
  • Echocardiogram: checks problems associated with heart valves
  • Biopsy: small tissue from the kidney is obtained with a needle or incision to confirm the diagnosis of lupus. Skin biopsy can also be done for the diagnosis involving the skin

Complications

The main complications caused by lupus can affect many parts of the body, including:

  • Kidneys: can cause kidney failure and kidney damage that may lead to death
  • Brain: affects the central nervous system leading to dizziness, vision problems, seizures, and memory loss
  • Inflammation of blood vessels and increased risk of blood clotting
  • Inflammation of lungs making the breathing painful
  • Inflammation of heart, arteries, and valves increasing the risk of heart attacks

Treatment

Once diagnosed, the doctors develop the treatment plan based on the location as well as the severity of the symptoms. The main commonly used medications for the treatment of lupus include:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium to treat swelling, fever, and pain
  • Antimalarial drugs such as chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to control lupus flares Corticosteroids such as prednisone and steroids to control severe disease involving the kidneys and brain
  • Immunosuppressants such as azathioprine, mycophenolate mofetil and methotrexate to suppress the immune system
  • Belimumab is also used to treat some symptoms
  • In the case of resistant lupus, rituximab can be recommended.

Other Preventive Measures

  • Avoid exposure to sunlight
  • Avoid medications such as Rozerem and melatonin that may trigger the disease
  • Avoid certain foods such as alfalfa sprouts, garlic, and echinacea that may enhance the immune system and make symptoms worse
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarette smoke and work-related chemicals that can trigger genetics leading to lupus
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