Lupus: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects approximately 1.5 million Americans. An autoimmune disease is a disease in which the immune system thinks that healthy parts of the body, such as the skin, joints, bone marrow, as well as organs, are possible threats and thus starts attacking them. Other well-known autoimmune diseases are rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and Multiple Sclerosis (MS). 90% of the cases of the condition are women who developed this disease between the ages of 15 and 45. To make it worse, women of color are even more likely to get sick – 2x to 3x as much to be exact.

age spots of redness on the face, a young man is ill systemic lupus erythematosus

Types of Lupus

There are 4 types of lupus. The most common type – almost 70% of the total cases – is called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). So if someone tells you they have lupus, they often mean systemic lupus erythematosus. Other types are:

  • Cutaneous lupus erythematosus; a type that primarily targets the skin and sometimes the hair.
  • Drug-induced lupus; a type caused by certain medications, once you’ve stopped taking them, the disease and its symptoms will disappear.
  • Neonatal lupus; is a rare type that is found in newborns and is probably passed to them from their mothers.

Causes & Risk Factors

Unfortunately, the cause of lupus is still unknown. To this day, the medical world is doing a lot of research to discover why and how this autoimmune disease is triggered. Medical experts do know that there a possible factors that could cause it. Risk factors include:

  • Hormonal changes; high levels of estrogen
  • Environmental changes; sunlight, medications, stress, viruses, smoking
  • Family history; there is an increased chance of getting it if an (immediate) family member has Lupus.

Even though 9 in 10 cases are women, it does not mean that only women can develop this autoimmune disease. 1 in 10 cases is still male. Ethnicities with a high lupus risk include African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American.

Sometimes lupus is a symptom of another medical condition, which means it is not always an isolated disease. The autoimmune disease has a wide variety of symptoms, as it can affect most parts of the body. This makes it hard to diagnose the disease, and so many people are walking around with undiagnosed lupus, just because it can manifest itself in so many ways. Knowing what symptoms the disease has, is extremely important.

Systemic lupus erythematosus. A woman with a red spot on her face in the shape of a butterfly. Illustration of the main symptom of SLE. common lupus symptoms logo icon. Vector illustration of CARTOON

Symptoms of Lupus

Lupus is often described as a disease in which the immune system causes inflammation and pain throughout the body. This includes joint inflammation and pain, skin sensitivities & rashes, and problems with organs, such as the lungs, kidneys, and brain. These symptoms come in waves – also called flare-ups. In other words, there are periods when you are experiencing them a lot and your daily life is heavily impacted by them, and there are periods when you are not experiencing them at all. The latter is called the remission phase. Possible symptoms of lupus include:

  • butterfly rash; red rash over the cheeks and nose bridge
  • Skin rashes; large red circular plaques
  • Mouth sores
  • Hair loss
  • Weight loss
  • Arthritis; joint inflammations
  • Fever
  • Stomach pain
  • Headaches
  • Swollen glands
  • Dry eyes
  • Fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Muscle pain

Lupus also affects your blood – this can happen with or without symptoms. This means that the immune system starts attacking your red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. If the numbers of these cells start to drop, possible symptoms are fatigue, easy bruising, anemia, and serious infections. Complications of (un)treated lupus are: organ problems, think of depression, seizures, pericarditis, chest pain, and kidney damage.

Diagnosing Lupus

Diagnosing lupus can be a difficult and long road. As you’ve read on the previous page, Lupus has a lot of symptoms, and a lot of these symptoms have overlap with other medical conditions. Please do not be discouraged, because everyone deserves the right diagnosis and treatment. If you suspect that you – or a loved one – are suffering from lupus, talk to your professional healthcare provider. They will listen to your doubt and start testing you.

Often this starts with the question: “Does anyone in your (immediate) family have lupus?” After interviewing you about your family history and symptoms, they will do some test. These include a blood test and the ANA (antinuclear antibody test). The ANA test looks for antibodies that could be a sign you’re suffering from an autoimmune disease. If you’re suffering from lupus, this test usually comes back positive.

Are There Any Treatment Options?

Once the correct diagnosis is made, a treatment plan is set up. Just as there is no cause for lupus, there is also no cure for the disease. Of course, this does not mean that there are no treatment options. It just means that treatment is focused on treating the symptoms. In addition, several factors are considered before any treatment is started. Factors that are considered include: How old is a person, how severe are the symptoms, what is the overall health and are any (serious) complications already occurring?

After all these factors are gone through, a treatment is set up. Often this mean you have to take medication. Possible medication options include:

  • Steroid creams or pills; to treat rashes and internal symptoms
  • Hydroxychloroquine; to control skin & joint disease
  • Azathioprine; to treat severe symptoms
  • Methotrexate; to suppress the immune system
  • Cyclophosphamide and mycophenolate mofetil; to reduce the activity of the immunesystem
  • Belimumab; to reduce white blood cell activity that make antibodies
  • Rituximab; to reduce white blood cell activity that make antibodies

Even though there is no cure for lupus, everyone deserves a treatment plan that suits them and treats the symptoms. That’s why it’s important to do a lot of research on the disease. You can do this by talking to your professional healthcare provider, as well as through online research. We want to help you along, so start your search here:

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