Friday, May 6, 2011

May: Lupus Awareness Month

My step-sister has had systemic lupus for several years (starting when she was about 15-16 years old). I'm trying my best to learn more about lupus and hope to raise awareness of it as well. Please check out my step-sister's blog where she details her experience with lupus as well as provides excellent information on it:

What is Lupus? 
The chronic autoimmune disease, Lupus, occurs when the immune system--instead of protecting the body from germs and other infectious invaders-- fails to recognize the difference between the bad and good tissue, thus becoming counterproductive by producing autoantibodies that harm healthy cells and tissues, which can be damaging to:

  • joints
  • skin
  • kidneys (Note: Serious kidney damage could lead to kidney failure. Luckily there is effective treatment)
  • heart (higher risk of cardiovascular disease)
  • lungs (painful breathing, pleurisy)
  • blood vessels (for example, vasculitis which is the inflammation of the blood vessels-very serious)
Essentially, the immune system is attacking itself. For this reason,  Lupus makes one more vulnerable to other illnesses and creates numerous complications (anemia, pregnancy complications, etc). Lupus may even impact the Central Nervous System (primarily the brain, which causes cognitive dysfunction, such as dizziness, hallucinations, memory problems, seizures, headaches).

Note: Lupus is not contagious and it is not a cancer.

What causes Lupus?
Although the cause of Lupus remains unknown, it may be linked to the following factors:

  • Hereditary/Genetics
    • While genes are a possibility, no specific gene group has yet been identified. However, research revealed that those with lupus may have family members with an autoimmune disease. 
  • Environmental Stimuli
    • Certain environmental factors may trigger the disease, such as the sun's ultraviolet rays (photosensitivity), smoking, exhaustion, emotional stress (divorce, illness, loss of a loved one) and physical stress (surgery, even pregnancy), exposure to dangerous toxins (trichloreothylene found in well water and dust), flu or other illness, an injury, drugs associated with sulfa and penicillin ( Bactrim and Septra), 
  • Hormones 
    • The hormone estrogen is believed to influence lupus in some way. According to the Lupus Foundation, "Many women have more lupus symptoms before menstrual periods and/or during pregnancy, when estrogen production is high. This may indicate that estrogen somehow regulates the severity of lupus." So, indeed, a connection exists, it's just a matter of understanding specifically how and why.

What are the symptoms?
Since there are different forms of lupus (systemic  lupus, cutaneous lupus, drug-induced lupus, and neonatal lupus) and not all cases are alike, there are a wide range of symptoms ranging from mild to severe:

  • extreme fatigue
  • the swollen and painful joints  (mostly swollen wrists, hands, knees and elbows)
  • chest pain on deep breathing (pleurisy), which can make breathing painful
  • headaches
  • fever
  • red skin rash (known as butterfly rash or malar) that can be found on the face, arm, chest, etc.
  • muscle pain
  • hair loss (alopecia)
  • anemia (low red blood cells count)
  • sensitivity to the sun (which can exacerbate the rashes)
  • pale toes and fingers that turn blue/white when cold (Raynaud's phenmenon)
  • mouth/nose ulcers
  • swollen eyes and legs
  • seizures 
  • dizziness
  • faint spells 
  • depression
  • Confusion
How is Lupus diagnosed?

Since the symptoms associated with lupus are not unique to lupus alone, there is some difficulty in diagnosing patients with lupus. Doctors perform different tests, such as a skin biopsy, blood tests (Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) and Complete Blood Count (CBC), conduct a kidney and liver assessment, urinalysis, and syphilis test. They also abide by a certain set of guidelines from the American College of Rheumatology that pay attention to the combination of 11 specific abnormalities, of which a patient must have at least four. I found the information regarding diagnosis on the following website:

I urge you to visit it and learn more about the various tests and symptoms.

How is Lupus treated?
Despite the lack of a cure, there are ways to treat and manage the disease to help minimize the symptoms. Treatments vary from person to person and their specific problems.
  • Maintain close contact with your healthcare team (which may include doctors in various fields, but for the most part a rheumatologist (handles joints and muscles) is typically the one who treats lupus, unless there are complications with other organs).
  • Follow treatment plan designed according to one's age, symptoms, lifestyle in an effort to help cope with the symptoms, reduce inflammation, reduce damage to other organs, etc. Take medications as prescribed. Don't prescribe your own dosages (not safe. but this is common sense, right?)
Here are the FDA approved medications for Lupus as listed on the Lupus Foundation site:
corticosteroids, including prednisone, prednisolone, methylprednisolone, and hydrocortisone; the antimalarial, hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil®); and aspirin. 

To learn more about Lupus and what YOU can do to help, visit:

Creative Commons License
Sand-Dollared Cataract by Sofia Mitchell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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