Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue and organs. About 1.5 million Americans have lupus and 90% of people with lupus are women. This disease typically affects people between the ages of 15 and 45. No two cases of lupus are alike and symptoms of this condition often mimic those of other diseases, which makes diagnosis difficult.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of lupus may occur suddenly or develop slowly over time. Most people with lupus have episodes in which symptoms are present. These episodes are referred to as flares. Though symptoms of lupus vary from case to case and are common in other conditions, a butterfly rash across the face is usually the tell-tale sign that sets this disease apart from other illnesses. Other possible signs and symptoms include:
- Joint pain, swelling, and stiffness
- Confusion or memory loss
- Skin Lesions
- Chest pain or shortness of breath
- Fingers and toes that turn blue or white in the cold or under stress (This is known as Raynaud’s phenomenon)
Causes and Risk Factors
The exact cause of lupus is unknown, although factors like sunlight, infections and certain medications are often triggers of flares. Experts believe genetics and environment are the most likely causes of lupus. Risk factors include age, gender, and race. Lupus is most common in African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American women between the ages of 15-45.
Complications from Lupus
Lupus causes inflammation that can affect all areas of the body, but your heart, lungs, kidneys, blood system and central nervous system are more likely to be affected. Lupus may also increase the risk of cancer, infection, bone tissue death, and complications during pregnancy.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Common lab tests like a complete blood count (CDC), urinalysis, and kidney and liver assessment are used during the diagnosis process. In some cases, imaging tests like a chest x-ray and echocardiogram may be used if your doctor feels lupus may be attacking your heart or lungs. Sometimes, a biopsy is also needed to determine the proper treatment.
Treatment for lupus ranges from the use of NSAIDS to immunosuppressants. Other treatments include biologics, antimalarial drugs, and corticosteroids. The drug Rituximab is often used in cases of resistant lupus.