Contribution: Rachna Arya
Lupus is a very complex autoimmune and inflammatory condition. What happens in this condition is that the body’s natural defense mechanism, the immune system, turns against itself and mistakenly attacks healthy cells. Over time, it causes widespread inflammation throughout the body, damaging body organs and tissues and, at worst, leading to 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 dramatically affect the brain and nervous system, which can affect a person’s mental health. No two cases of this disease are the same, so one person with the disease may have skin and kidneys affected, while another may have heart and lungs.
Symptoms of Lupus
Lupus symptoms are unpredictable and can manifest as a wide spectrum from person to person. Symptoms may or may not occur together. Sometimes they may be mild or not noticeable. At other times, you may experience severe symptoms of the condition that greatly affect your daily functioning. Some patients experience moderate symptoms such as general fatigue and headaches, while others experience severe symptoms such as extreme memory loss.
If you suspect you may have this disease, here are the most common symptoms to watch for:
- Swollen, stiff and painful joints
- Fever, with no known cause
- Skin rash, usually on the face and neck.
- Chest pain when taking deep breaths
- Hair thinning, or hair loss
- Sensitivity to light
- brain fog
- dry eyes
- Mouth or nose sores
- Unexplained fatigue and lethargy
Lupus has an additional set of symptoms, some of which can be more severe. These complications can include:
- kidney problems
- Urinary tract infection
- Respiratory infections
- Yeast infection
- cognitive problems
- Stroke or seizure.
Causes of Lupus
To begin with, the exact cause of lupus is still unclear.
It is believed that multiple factors such as the patient’s hormones, genetics, environmental factors and/or triggers may fit together to create the mysterious puzzle of the disease.
Although more study is needed, research has identified that some people are genetically predisposed to lupus, and when these genetically susceptible individuals experience certain triggers, symptoms may flare up.
Common triggers include:
- Close exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays
- Exposure to fluorescent light bulbs
- lack of sleep
- Extreme anxiety
- Stressful events, such as divorce, illness, death in the family
- physical exertion
- Surgery, physical injury, pregnancy and childbirth
- Stopping your lupus medication
- Being around certain chemicals, including cigarette smoke, mercury and silica
- Certain blood pressure medications, anti-seizure medications, and antibiotics.
Management and treatment of lupus
Lupus has a wide range of symptoms, making it difficult for doctors to diagnose. Also, unlike many other diseases, this condition cannot be diagnosed with a single lab test. Blood tests and other lab tests can confirm the diagnosis of lupus.
The way your rheumatologist – a specialist in muscle, joint and bone conditions – prepares your treatment plan can depend on a number of factors, including:
- Symptoms and complications
- Severity of your case
- your age
- The type of medication you are taking
- Your general health
- Your medical history.
However, once diagnosed, there are several treatment options to manage symptoms, prevent lupus flares, address the challenges of lupus, and limit organ damage. Along with medication, most cases can be effectively managed with home remedies and lifestyle changes, including:
- Learn to recognize the warning signs that a flame is coming
- See your doctor regularly
- Limiting time spent in the sun and fluorescent and halogen lights
- Get enough sleep and rest
- Exercise and being active
- Join a support group of people you trust and can go to for help.
Also, people with lupus should aim for a healthy and balanced diet. Fruits and vegetables, as well as lean protein sources, will help you get the nutrients you need. Food groups rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as fatty fish, nuts and oils such as flaxseed, olive and canola should be consumed. Lupus patients often require high calorie intake. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation if at all, and sodium intake may need to be limited to reduce bloating. Processed and fatty foods high in saturated fat should be avoided as they can contribute to inflammation.
Lupus is a condition of 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 cause irreparable damage to your body. An early diagnosis and advances in treatment can help in effective management of the disease.
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