Lupus is a systemic, inflammatory, autoimmune disease, which is characterized by the body attacking its own cells and organs, including the skin, joints, lungs, blood, and kidneys to name a few, because it cannot distinguish between foreign, harmful organisms and healthy cells. When the body’s immune system turns on itself, the inflammation, pain, and swelling that is so familiar to lupus sufferers could become a permanent and painful part of daily life. Alas, all hope is not lost. With the proper diagnosis, treatment plan, and pain management, lupus sufferers can reduce symptoms and live more comfortable, normal lives. Here are some common symptoms of lupus and treatment options available to help manage the disease.
One symptom that is very common among lupus sufferers is the presence of skin rashes. Skin rashes are very common among individuals suffering from autoimmune diseases. In the case of lupus, a malar or butterfly rash typically forms on the ears, arms, chest, and face, in particular over the cheeks and nose, in the shape of red and blotchy butterfly wings. The rash is typically not itchy but visually troublesome, and it can be exacerbated by heat or sun exposure.
Approximately 95 percent of lupus sufferers report the painful development of sores or lesions inside their mouth or nose. The mouth sores are very similar to canker sores, which can make eating, drinking, and even speaking very painful.
Another common symptom among lupus sufferers is joint pain and inflammation, which is especially common in the upper and lower extremities (hands and feet), as well as the associated joints. Joint inflammation is often a strong indicator that something is amiss with your body. This symptom can be particularly telling if a normally energetic person might suddenly suffer from extreme joint pain and weakness.
Other common symptoms of lupus that can be much more subtle and vague are also often annoying because they could linger for long periods and can be brushed off as general malaise. However, they could signal a more serious health issue. A prime example of this affliction is lupus sufferers who regularly report feeling feverish and suffering from frequent migraine headaches.
Lupus pain and inflammation could become so serious the pain and swelling can actually set into major organs, such as the lungs. Chest pain could occur if the lungs become inflamed (pleurisy), which leaves the patient at risk for developing serious pneumonia or other respiratory ailments if left untreated.
Similar to other autoimmune diseases and treatment options, lupus can actually affect the normal development of body cell growth. As a result, the disease itself and the medication taken to treat the disease could affect hair growth and even cause severe hair loss in both male and female lupus patients.
Another common and distinctive side effect of lupus is Raynaud’s phenomenon, which is the occasional restriction of blood flow to the fingers, which causes the fingers to turn blue and go numb. This aspect is followed by a rush of blood to the extremities that causes hot, throbbing, and tingling fingers.
One all too common symptom of lupus that cannot be underestimated is chronic and persistent fatigue. Lupus sufferers are very familiar with the draining sensation of fatigue that accompanies the disease. Medical studies have attributed this extreme exhaustion to a mixture of poor pain management, sleep deprivation, and depression due to constant discomfort and a diminished quality of life.
Severe cases of lupus often result in symptoms and treatments that involve the body’s major organ systems. In addition to affecting the lungs, heart, and brain, lupus can also damage the kidneys by causing inflammation and dysfunction, which makes waste elimination difficult. In fact, if waste accumulates in the body and cannot be eliminated, lupus patients could suffer uncomfortable or urgent urination, swelling of the feet and ankles, and blood in their urine. Among worst case scenarios, a lupus patient could develop renal failure and require extreme treatment options such as hospitalization, intravenous fluids, or dialysis treatment.
The underlying cause of lupus is not fully known and there are many types of the disease. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most predominant and well-known form of the disease, which includes symptoms such as mouth sores, skin rashes, fatigue, joint pain and inflammation, as well as possible kidney damage. Lupus patients can also become extremely photosensitive, which means in addition to skin rashes from sunlight, the skin can actually become inflamed and blister in strong, hot sun.
An individual with lupus will have good periods and bad periods, remissions and relapses, and symptoms can very greatly in duration and severity. The number of lupus sufferers in the United States is largely debatable with estimates ranging from approximately 300,000 to 1.5 million people. According to the American College of Rheumatology, the disease is ten times more likely among women than men and the symptoms of lupus often start between the ages of 15 and 44.
Common symptoms and treatment options for lupus can vary greatly. Treatment of lupus depends on the part(s) of the body being affected by the disease and the severity of the problem. The FDA approved the first drug to treat lupus, which was aspirin, in 1948, and later approved corticosteroids, such as prednisone, which suppresses the immune system and reduces inflammation. Some other common treatments include Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine), which is an antimalarial drug and helps to relieve some common lupus symptoms such as fatigue, rashes, joint pain, and mouth sores, and Benlysta, which is the first targeted drug therapy for lupus. Benlysta is an intravenous drug therapy delivered directly into a vein. It is designed to target a protein called B-lymphocyte stimulator, which may reduce the impact of abnormal cells believed to be a factor in the development of lupus. The FDA approved Plaquenil and Benlysta for lupus treatment in 1955 and 2011, respectively. Despite the treatment options available, there are many lupus sufferers who do not respond to existing treatments and need additional treatment options, especially those individuals with very severe and/or multiple forms of lupus. However, the advances made in the understanding and treatment of lupus over the last several decades have resulted in people with the disease living longer and more productive lives.
By Leigh Haugh