There are many types of diseases that are caused by the immune system malfunctioning. Some are mild like in allergies where the immune system is hypersenstive (although some allergic reactions can be deadly) while others are more serious. Among the latter, lupus is often dreaded because it is serious and can be severe. Without proper treatment it can be deadly.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the body’s tissues. This causes inflammation of the targeted tissues and organs. It is a long term condition often lasting for a person’s entire lifetime. Therefore lupus is referred to a chronic inflammatory disease. It can target any tissue or organ in the body and the inflammation damages the target area and may even destroy it to the point that an organ can no longer function.
There are many different types of lupus. Some are more serious than others. However, the general term lupus is usually attributed to systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE. Other types include cutaneous lupus erythematosus, drug-induced lupus erythematosus, neonatal lupus erythematosus and childhood lupus eythematosus. The exact cause of SLE is unknown but it appears to be triggered by environmental factors and is linked to genetic factors.
Read more on lupus types.
There is no cure for lupus and most medication used to manage the condition either suppress or modulate the immune system. These drugs help to reduce the inflammation and therefore prevent organ damage. However, many of these drugs may have significant side effects. Other medication may be prescribed to alleviate the signs and symptoms but the underlying disorder also needs to be managed appropriately.
How Common is Lupus?
The exact prevalence of lupus is unknown. It is estimated that as many as 2 million Americans have some of lupus. The condition is most common in the 15 to 45 year age group and as many as 9 out of 10 lupus sufferers are women. Therefore females in the 15 to 45 year age group are at the greatest risk and studies have shown that certain ethnicitie are more likely to develp lupus.
Ways to Spot Lupus
Lupus is not always clearly identifiable by signs and symptoms. Sometimes the condition may be present with no symptoms and then it suddenly arises. Similarly there are instances where the symptoms develop gradually. The triad of cheek rash, joint pain and fever without an infection should raise the suspicion of lupus. Diagnostic investigations are then necessary to confirm that the condition is lupus.
Read more on lupus tests.
As with many diseases, fatigue is present in lupus. This can be one of the first symptoms and often a person cannot find any explanation for the cause of the fatigue. Despite relaxing, sleeping and eating well, the fatigue persists. A person may even awake feeling very tired after a long and restful sleep. The extent of the fatigue may be linked to the severity of the lupus. Fatigue is non-specific symptom and should therefore be correlated with other signs and symptoms before lupus is considered as a possible cause.
A raised body temperature (fever) is another sign of lupus. Most of the time we associate a fever with an infection. However, a fever can also arise with non-infectious conditions like autoimmune diseases. With lupus the cause of the fever may not always be immediately identifiable, hence the term fever of unknown origin. Technically a fever is a body temperature of 98.6ºF (37ºC) and above. On it own it should not be considered as a possible indicator of lupus unless other causes cannot be identified or there are other more characteristic symptoms present.
Joint pain (arthralgia) is another common sign of lupus. In fact it is one the main reasons that people with undiagnosed SLE see a medical professional. There is also joint swelling and stiffness. It tends to affect the small joints, including those of the fingers and wrists. These joint symptoms of lupus are often misdiagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis. There is also accompanying muscle pain.
A butterfly rash which occurs on the cheeck and extends across the bridge of the nose is usually considered a characteristic sign of lupus. However, similar rashes may be seen with other skin conditions like melasma. The rash in SLE is typically red and may be painful or itchy. It can last for days or weeks and then may resolve only to return later. Melasma on the other hand usually causes a brown rash that is not painful or itchy and usually does not cross over the bridge of the nose despite affecting the cheeks.
Another skin feature seen with lupus is a red rash that appears after exposure to sun. It is also worsened with the sun. This rash is in addition to the butterfly rash described above. The rash is not a sunburn althought it may be triggered and worsened by the sun. It typically lasts for a few days and then resolves on its own. The rash may be painful, itchy or present without any sensation.
White to Blue Fingers and Toes
Raynaud phenomenon is a condition where the tiny blood vessels of the finger and toes constrict (narrow) thereby reducing blood flow through it. The fingers and toes may appear pale to white in color and in severe cases it may even turn blue. This phenomenon may also be seen with lupus. However, on its own it should not be considered as a sign of lupus unless there are other signs and symptoms. Cold or stress triggers it but does not cause this phenomenon.
Other Signs and Symptoms
Lupus can affect any tissue or organ in the body including the kidneys, brain, heart, lungs and blood apart from the skin, blood vessels and joints discussed above. As a result it may present witha host of other signs and symptoms such as:
- Blood in the urine
- Dry eyes
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Mouth and nose ulcers
- Hair loss
- Abdominal pain
These are only some of the other signs and symptoms of lupus. The condition should be diagnosed by a medical professional usually after further laboratory testing.