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What is Lupus – Everything You Should Know

Contributed by: Rachna Arya

Introduction

Lupus is a highly complex autoimmune and inflammatory condition. What happens in this condition is that the body’s natural defence system, the immune system, turns against itself and mistakenly attacks healthy cells. Over time, this causes widespread inflammation throughout the body, damage to the body’s organs and tissues, and at worst, death.

Sometimes known as the ‘disease of a thousand faces,’ Lupus can affect almost any part of the body. The organs most commonly affected are the kidneys, joints, blood vessels, skin, heart, and lungs. Lupus can also dramatically affect the brain and nervous system which can impact a person’s mental health. No two cases of the disease are similar, so while one person with the condition may have his or her skin and kidneys impacted, another person may have heart and lung affected.

Symptoms of Lupus

Lupus symptoms are unpredictable and can manifest as a broad spectrum from person to person. Symptoms may or may not occur together. At times they might be mild or not noticeable. Other times, you could experience severe symptoms of the condition that heavily impact your daily functioning. Some patients experience moderate symptoms like generalized fatigue and headaches, while others experience severe symptoms such as extreme memory loss.

Here are the most common symptoms to keep an eye out for if you suspect you might have the disease:

Swollen, stiff and painful jointsFever, with no known causeSkin rashes, usually on face and neck.Pain in the chest upon taking a deep breathThinning hair, or hair lossSensitivity to lightBrain fogAbdominal crampingDry eyesMouth or nose soresUnexplained fatigue and exhaustionAnaemia

There is additional set of lupus symptoms, some of which can be more severe. These complications can include:

kidney problemsurinary tract infectionsrespiratory infectionsyeast infectionscognitive issuesstrokes or seizures.

Causes of Lupus

To begin, the exact cause of Lupus is not yet clear.

It is believed that multiple factors such as the patient’s hormonal, genetic, environmental factors and/or triggers might fit together to make up the mysterious puzzle of this disease.

Although further studies are needed, research has identified that some people are genetically predisposed to lupus, and when these genetically susceptible people experience specific triggers, symptoms may flare up.

Common triggers include:

Having close exposure to ultraviolet rays of sunExposure to fluorescent light bulbsInfectionLack of sleepExtreme anxietyStressful events, such as divorce, illness, death in the familyPhysical exertionInjurySurgery, physical injury, pregnancy, and child birthStopping your lupus medicinesBeing around certain chemicals — including cigarette smoke, mercury, and silicaCertain types of blood pressure medications, anti-seizure medications and antibiotics.

Management and Treatment of Lupus

Lupus has a wide range of symptoms, making it challenging for doctors to diagnose.  Also, unlike many other diseases, the condition cannot be diagnosed with a single lab test. Blood tests and other lab tests can confirm a diagnosis of lupus.

The way your rheumatologist – a specialist in conditions of the muscles, joints, and bones prepares your treatment plan, it can depend on several factors, including:

The symptoms and complicationsThe severity of your caseYour ageThe type of medications you may be takingYour general healthYour medical history.

However, once the condition has been diagnosed, there are several treatments options to manage symptoms, prevent lupus flares, cope with the challenges of lupus, and limit organ damage. In conjunction with medication, most cases can be effectively controlled with home remedies and lifestyle modifications, including:

Learning to identify the warning signs that a flare is comingSeeing your doctors regularlyLimiting the time spent in the sun and in fluorescent and halogen lightGetting enough sleep and restExercising and being activeJoining a support group of people, you trust and can go to for help.

In addition, people with lupus should aim for a healthy and well-balanced diet. Fruits and vegetables, as well as lean protein sources, will help you get the nutrients you require. Food groups rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fatty fish, nuts and ground flaxseed, oils like olive and canola should be consumed. Lupus patients frequently require a higher caloric intake. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation if at all, and sodium intake may need to be restricted to reduce swelling. Processed and fatty foods high in saturated fats should be avoided as these may contribute to inflammation.

Final thoughts

Lupus is a condition with a complex nature and continues to present many unanswered questions. It causes symptoms ranging from mild to life-threatening. If the disease is left untreated, it can do irreparable damage to your body. An early diagnosis and advances in treatment, can help in the effective management of the disease.

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