What's in this article?
What is lupus?
A disease that “attacks” your immune system. Your immune system is your body’s natural defense against disease. When you have lupus, your immune system has stopped working properly, and antibodies that normally protect you against infection are misdirected and react against substances in your cells or tissues. This may cause inflammation, injury and pain much like a splinter in your toe causes it to become swollen, tender and red. In lupus, the inflammation occurs inside your body to vital organs and systems such as your skin, joints, kidneys, brain, heart, lungs and blood. The targets vary from patient to patient, but most people with the disease have symptoms in only a few parts of the body.
Who Gets Lupus?
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S. have lupus. People of African, Asian, and Native American descent are more likely to develop lupus than are Caucasians. Although it can occur in both men and women, 90% of people diagnosed with the disease are women. Women of childbearing age (14 to 45 years old) are most often affected and as many as 1 in 250 people may develop lupus.
How does lupus affect the heart and circulation?
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can affect almost any part of your body, most often your joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood, or brain.
Your heart, blood vessels, and lungs make up your cardiovascular/pulmonary network: “Cardio” refers to the heart, “vascular” refers to the arteries, veins, and capillaries, and “pulmonary” refers to the lungs. Your blood circulates through this vast system, transporting oxygen and other elements needed for your cells and tissues to function properly. Cardiologists are the physicians who specialize in the heart. Pulmonologists are the physicians who specialize in the lungs.
What Are the Symptoms of Lupus?
Symptoms of lupus vary, but some of the most common symptoms of lupus are:
- Pain or swelling in joints
- Muscle pain
- Fever with no known cause
- Red rashes, most often on the face
- Chest pain when taking a deep breath
- Hair loss
- Pale or purple fingers or toes
- Sensitivity to the sun
- Swelling in legs or around eyes
- Mouth ulcers
- Swollen glands
- Feeling very tired.
Less common symptoms include:
- Anemia (a decrease in red blood cells)
- Dizzy spells
- Feeling sad
Symptoms may come and go. The times when a person is having symptoms are called flares, which can range from mild to severe. New symptoms may appear at any time.
What causes lupus?
Lupus is a mystery. Researchers think genetic, environmental and possibly hormonal factors combine in some way to cause the condition. You can’t “catch” lupus from someone else, and it can’t be sexually transmitted. While lupus can run in families, it most likely takes external factors to trigger the illness, such as overexposure to ultraviolet rays or the use of certain drugs. Infection, trauma, stress, surgery and hormones may also trigger lupus.
Does a Positive ANA Test Mean That I Have Lupus?
Not necessarily. The antinuclear antibody (ANA) test is positive in most people who have lupus, but it also may be positive in many people who are healthy or have another autoimmune disease. Therefore, a positive ANA test alone is not adequate for the diagnosis of lupus. There must be at least three additional clinical features from the list of 11 features for the diagnosis to be made.
How Is Lupus Treated?
You may need special kinds of doctors to treat the many symptoms of lupus. Your health care team may include:
- A family doctor
- Rheumatologists doctors who treat arthritis and other diseases that cause swelling in the joints
- Clinical immunologists doctors who treat immune system disorders
- Nephrologists doctors who treat kidney disease
- Hematologists doctors who treat blood disorders
- Dermatologists doctors who treat skin diseases
- Neurologists doctors who treat problems with the nervous system
- Cardiologists doctors who treat heart and blood vessel problems
- Endocrinologists doctors who treat problems related to the glands and hormones
- Social workers.
Your doctor will develop a treatment plan to fit your needs. You and your doctor should review the plan often to be sure it is working. You should report new symptoms to your doctor right away so that treatment can be changed if needed.
The goals of the treatment plan are to:
- Prevent flares
- Treat flares when they occur
- Reduce organ damage and other problems.
Treatments may include drugs to:
- Reduce swelling and pain
- Prevent or reduce flares
- Help the immune system
- Reduce or prevent damage to joints
- Balance the hormones.
In addition to medications for lupus itself, sometimes other medications are needed for problems related to lupus such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or infection. Alternative treatments are those that are not part of standard treatment. No research shows that this kind of treatment works for people with lupus. You should talk to your doctor about alternative treatments.