WHAT IS LUPUS?
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) or simply “lupus” is a condition that can cause inflammation in many different parts of the body. It affects people in different ways causing symptoms in different parts of the body – joints, kidneys, skin, heart, lungs and nervous system. Usually 2 to 3 parts of the body may be affected.
There is nothing you could have done to stop yourself from getting lupus. You cannot catch lupus from other people or give it to others.
Lupus is an illness that may go on for years, or for your entire life. It is unpredictable with times when your symptoms are worse (we call this a “flare”) and at other times when you may have few or no symptoms.
WHAT CAUSES LUPUS?
We don’t know what causes lupus but we do know that it involves the immune system. Our body uses the immune system to protect itself from harmful things such as bacteria and viruses (bugs).
We are not sure why some people have an immune system that does not work properly. However, we do know that when some people get sick, it is caused by the system being overly active and causing harm to itself. This is called autoimmune illness. Lupus is one of these illnesses.
Females are more likely to get lupus than males, approximately in a 9 to 1 ratio. Sometimes, there is family history of lupus or other autoimmune conditions.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Lupus can be hard to diagnose as there are a lot of different symptoms that people may have. You probably won’t experience all of them, most people only have some. You generally need to have 4 or more specific symptoms to be diagnosed with lupus.
The usual symptoms are a butterfly shaped rash,photosensitivity (sunlight and lights can cause rash), fever, kidney problems, fits/seizures, fatigue and tiredness, headaches, hair loss, mouth ulcers, shortness of breath, painful or swollen joints, chest pain and memory loss.
Symptoms can change over years and can come and go.
You may have periods of symptom flare up and periods of wellness.
HOW IS IT DIAGNOSED?
Go and see your doctor. He or she will take a history of your problems and symptoms which can give clues to your condition. It is not uncommon for people to have lupus and its symptoms for sometime before they get a diagnosis. Your doctor will do a physical examination and order some tests (blood and urine tests usually) to help decide whether you have lupus and to see if your immune system is working properly or is overly active.
If you do have lupus, regular blood tests will be done by your doctor to monitor your illness and keep you healthy.
If you are being seen by a GP (General Practitioner), he will refer you to a specialist. Lupus involves different types of care because it affects any organ in the body. The symptoms you have show what parts of the body are affected and need special attention. A Rheumatologist is the primary doctor who is specialized in treating autoimmune diseases, including lupus. He will occasionally work together with other types of specialists as he sees it fit, according to your symptoms, like a nephrologist (for kidneys), a dermatologist (for skin), a neurologist (for the brain, spinal cord and nerves), a cardiologist (for the heart), a pulmonologist (for lungs), an endocrinologist (for hormones and metabolism) and a gastroenterologist (for the stomach, liver and intestines).
HOW IS IT TREATED?
Everybody has different symptoms so your treatment will be based on your symptoms and problems. Your doctor (Rheumatologist) can explain which ones can help you.
The most commonly used drug is Prednisone. This is usually given to you at a high dose when you are first diagnosed and maybe to help you when you have a flare. The dose is gradually reduced at times when your illness is quiet and when new drugs are given. Other drugs may be given to help reduce the steroid dose (Steroid Sparing).
There are many other drugs that are effective in treating specific symptoms. Your doctor will talk to you about these.
Most drugs work by helping to balance the immune system.
There are some health supplements and aids that can be used to reduce symptoms, for example soap substitutes, eye sprays, and special oral care items of mouthwash and toothpaste.