Over 16,000 new cases of lupus are identified each year, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. Lupus is a lifelong autoimmune disease that can affect any part of your body, from your skin to your internal organs. While much has left to be learned about the nature of lupus, researchers continue to seek a cure. To help you better understand this potentially debilitating disease, here is a basic guide to lupus.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease, which means your immune system mistakenly attacks your body’s healthy tissue with autoantibodies — causing you to feel pain and inflammation. The overactive immune system is a stark contrast to AIDS, which is a disease marked by an under-functioning system. Lupus generally appears intermittently in flares, during which time symptoms worsen. The disease also enters episodes of remission when symptoms improve. There is no way of knowing how long flares will last. The severity of lupus can range from mild to life-threatening. While men and children can also have the disease, women make up about 90 percent of all lupus cases, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Forms of lupus
Lupus comes in different forms, and an individual can develop more than one type over time. Systemic lupus is the most common type, and it can damage any part of the body including the nervous system, lungs and kidneys. Cutaneous lupus affects only the skin, causing rashes and lesions throughout. Drug-induced lupus is caused by certain prescription medications, and the lupus symptoms can disappear after discontinuing the drug use. Neonatal lupus is found in infants of women who have lupus, and while symptoms typically disappear, the baby may be vulnerable to heart defects. This is a very rare condition.
Lupus presents a wide range of symptoms throughout the body. Symptoms worsen during flares, which may be triggered by external factors like stress, injury or infection. Some symptoms include fatigue, fever and painful or swollen joints. People with lupus may also feel various body pains, including headaches, chest pain and muscle pain or weakness. A few people with lupus can develop anemia, mouth or nose ulcers and blood clotting. Other symptoms include skin rashes, hair loss, abnormal blood clotting and sensitivity to sunlight.
Researchers have yet to identify a single primary cause for lupus, says the Lupus Foundation of America. Studies involving twins with lupus have strongly suggested a genetic component to the disease. Nonetheless, environmental triggers usually cause flares. Triggers can vary widely from one person to the next, and they include irritants like ultraviolet rays, certain medications, emotional stress or physical exhaustion.
Lupus is a chronic disease with no final cure, but treatment can help mitigate the symptoms and allow individuals to continue leading active lives. Symptoms take many shapes and forms, so treatment varies according to each person’s needs. Rheumatologists — doctors who specialize in joints and muscles — are the primary health care specialists who tend to lupus. Additional specialists may be necessary if the disease begins to affect other parts of the body, including the skin and any vital organs. Treatment regimens are usually designed to reduce pain and inflammation, curb the immune system’s hyperactivity, anticipate and prevent flares, and minimize overall damage to your body that lupus may cause.