Lupus Symptoms: Summary and Overview of the Lupus Disease and its Symptoms
Lupus is an autoimmune disease where your body attacks its own tissues and organs.
Inflammation caused by lupus can affect any part of the body, including your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs. Chronic means that the signs and symptoms tend to last longer than six weeks and often for many years. The most common form of lupus is systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE.
It is hard to guess how many people in the U.S. have lupus, because the symptoms vary greatly from person to person. Because of this, it is hard to diagnose and can go undiagnosed for many years or is never correctly identified. The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that about 16,000 new cases are reported across the country each year.
Lupus Symptoms: Causes
What causes lupus? The causes are not known although there are certain risk factors that may trigger the disease, especially in combination. Lupus is not contagious.
- Environmental factors: These include prolonged stress and emotional trauma, injury, exposure to sunlight; smoking or second-hand smoke, exposure to toxins like silica dust, certain medications, and infections.
- Genetic factors: Genes play a role in the development of lupus, although they are only one of a number of possible causes. Even if you have one or more of the genes associated with lupus, you only have a small chance of getting the disease.
- Cold or viral illness: Viruses such as parvovirus, cytomegalovirus, mononucleosis and hepatitis C may trigger lupus. For children, the Epstein-Barr virus can also trigger the disease.
- Drugs: sulfa drugs, which make a person more sensitive to the sun, such as: Bactrim and Septra (trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole); sulfisoxazole (Gantrisin); tolbutamide (Orinase); sulfasalazine (Azulfidine); diuretics; sun-sensitizing tetracycline drugs such as minocycline (Minocin), antibiotics such as penicillin, amoxicillin (Amoxil); ampicillin (Ampicillin Sodium ADD-Vantage); cloxacillin (Cloxapen). The two biggest drug treatments are hydralzine and procainamide.
The symptoms of lupus can be hard to diagnose as they vary from person to person. The most common ones include:
- Stiffness, joint swelling, and joint pain which typically involves more joints (arthritis).
- Butterfly rash (malar) on cheeks or other forms of rash on arms, neck, face, torso. Lupus skin disease is also referred to as cutaneous lupus. You may develop lesions over the cheeks, over the bridge of the nose, scalp hair that can become scaly and scar.
- Skin rashes from expose to ultraviolet light (photosensitivity) or sunlight.
- Nasal or mouth sores that are usually painless.
- Muscle aches.
- Purple or pale fingers or toes from cold or stress.
- Loss of appetite, weight loss, hair loss.
- Kidney problems with no known cause.
- Trouble thinking or memory difficulties.
- Problems on the nervous system like psychosis or seizures without known cause.
- Blood problems, which can include anemia or low number of red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets.
Lupus symptoms may go into remission or they may flare up (relapse).
Lupus symptoms: Diagnostic Tests
Diagnosing lupus is a complex process. The disease affects people differently. Signs and symptoms of lupus may vary over time and overlap with those of many other disorders. There isn’t a single test that you can do to establish whether or not you have it. Instead, a combination of blood and urine tests, signs and symptoms, and physical examination findings leads to the diagnosis.
Lupus is characterized by abnormalities in many laboratory test results. These abnormalities are different for every patient and they vary significantly during the course of a patient’s disease. By observing and testing a patient over time, your physician will be able to make an accurate diagnosis and recommend the best form of treatment, which will also likely need to evolve with the disease.
The first test will likely be the ANA (anti-nuclear antibody) screening test which is often checked when a doctor suspects lupus. A negative result means you can probably rule out lupus, although a positive result isn’t determinative – it will still require other tests to correctly establish a lupus diagnosis.
- Complete blood count test (CBC test): This is a test that measures and looks at the count of platelets, red blood cells, and white blood cells. Low levels of red blood cells are a symptom of lupus. A low platelet count or white blood cell count may also appear in lupus.
- Urinalysis test: If your urine shows an increased level of red blood cells or protein, the disease might have have affected the kidney.
- C-reactive protein (CRP) or Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (EST) test: This measures the rate that your red blood cells settle at the bottom of the tube. With lupus, this happens at a faster rate.
- Liver and kidney tests: lupus affects the performance of these organs.
- Chest X-ray: Lupus can cause lung inflammation or fluid in the lungs. The disease can also cause an enlarged heart, which is the result of a fluid build-up or pericardia effusion.
Lupus Symptoms: Treatment Options
There really is no cure for lupus although there are a number of medications and treatments to manage the symptoms and the severity of the condition. Since lupus symptoms vary in type and severity, treatment also varies from one person to another. There are effective, individualized treatment combinations that may take time for each person to find depending on the type and severity of the lupus symptoms.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs like Aspirin for symptomatic relief that can reduce chronic pain.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs – for muscle pain, mild joint, and fever relief.
- Corticosteroid drugs like Prednisolone for any lupus-induced inflammation.
- Antimalarial drugs like Hydroxychloroquine or Chloroquine Phosphate for skin rashes, arthritis or joint pain, fatigue, and malaise.
- Immunosuppressive and Cytotoxic drugs like Immuran or Azathioprine and Cytoxan or Cycyclophosphamide for those people whose vital organs are affected and if corticosteroid drugs are ineffective.
As well as medications there are a number of lifestyle changes that are important to manage lupus. These treatments may include: avoiding direct sunlight — wear a hat and long sleeved shirts etc., rest and physical therapy for muscle weakness, regular exercise such as yoga, as it can help you recover from a flare up, quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet. Because lupus is an incurable disease, it is important that you build emotional supports into your life too. Connecting with friends and family is key, as is making time for yourself. Many find that meeting others with lupus supportive and helpful too.
Lupus Symptoms: Prevention
How can one prevent lupus? That’s a million-dollar question while the cause still remains unknown. However the best way to prevent a flare up is to watch for the warning signs which include increased pain, rashes, fatigue, fever, headache, abdominal discomfort, and dizziness. At the onset of these warning signs, immediately consult a doctor so treatment plan can be adjusted.
Lupus Symptoms: Conclusion
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease. It used to be considered a terminal illness that killed people within just a few years. Today enormous gains have been made in terms of research and life expectancy. While we don’t yet know the survival rate, between 80-90 percent of people are still alive ten years after their first diagnosis. While there isn’t a cure for lupus, there are a number of ways that you can manage the disease and minimize your chances of a flare up.