by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Lupus is a disease known as an autoimmune disorder. In Lupus, as with other autoimmune disorders, the immune system malfunctions by becoming hyperactive. Because of the hyperactivity, the immune system is unable to distinguish the difference between invading pathogens and healthy tissue and begins attacking healthy tissue. The result is pain, inflammation and tissue damage.
There are several different types of Lupus that have been identified. The four most commonly diagnosed types of Lupus are:
1. Systemic Lupus Erythematosis or SLE. This is by far the most common and is usually referred to as simply ‘lupus’. Not only is it the most common it is the most severe.
2. Discoid lupus is less severe than SLE because it doesn’t attack the organs. This type of lupus presents as a rash on the face,neck, and scalp. Although less than 10% of patients diagnosed will develop into SLE there is no way to predict the path of the disease.
3. Drug induced lupus is caused by an allergic response to certain medications. Though the symptoms are similar to SLE they resolve after the patient stops taking the offending medication.
4. Neonatal lupus is very rare, occuring when a mother passes autoantibodies to a fetus.
Researchers have and continue to look for a specific cause for SLE but so far have been unable to name an exact cause. There are however certain factors that are believe to put a person at risk for lupus. The first is genetics. It is known that lupus runs in families, though there is no specific gene found to cause the disease. Ultraviolet light, usually sunlight, is known to trigger not only the disease but flares as well. Another factor that has gotten alot of attention is hormones. Because the disease is diagnosed primarily in women, though men do get the lupus, there continues to be alot of research done on the effects of estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are known to not only be at higher levels in women they are also used by women for birth control. Certain infections and medications are also suspected of triggering lupus.
The symptoms of lupus vary from patient to patient with no two being exactly alike. The patient may experience symptoms that develop slowly over a period of time or they may appear suddenly. The symptoms can also vary from mild to severe and some are temporary while others are permanent. Some of the more common symptoms to watch for are a rash that is a butterfly shaped across the cheeks and nose. This rash occurs in most, but not all, patients with lupus and is one of the first visible symptoms. Other common symptoms include swollen, achy joints, swelling of hands and feet, prolonged and extreme fatigue and sensitivity to the sun.
There currently is no known cure for lupus, though there are treatments to help relieve the symptoms. The treatment plan will depend on how severe the symptoms are. The goal of any treatment plan is to revent or limit “flares.” Flares are episodes when the symptoms become more severe. If the disease is mild you can usually control your symptoms by developing a healthy lifestyle and the use of medications such as NSAID’s, tylenol, corticosteroids, and immuneosuppressants. The sun is a known trigger for the disease and symptoms so avoiding the sun when possible is important. If you must be in the sun protect yourself and cover as much of your body as you can.
Finding the right Rhuematologist and support system is crucial to living with lupus. Lupus is a disease that affects the family as well as the patient. There are numerous organizations that provide information and support available. You can get information from your doctor on local organizations and they are also available on line.