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Living with Lupus – Facts, Symptoms, Detection

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Diseases attacking the body through alien viruses or bacteria are very well known to us and the thought that we can fight these with modern medicine is heartening. However, some diseases are born within our bodies, caused by our own cells and destroy our health. Most of such health disorders are mainly due to the weakening or abnormality of the autoimmune system. Lupus is one such autoimmune disease.

Some Facts about Lupus

Lupus is a chronic disease that occurs when the body’s immune system becomes abnormal and starts to attack the body’s healthy tissue. The damage done by the attack creates a condition of inflammation, swelling and pain across various parts of the body, including skin, joints, kidneys, heart and lungs.

In normal circumstances, the immune system produces proteins called antibodies, to fight antigens, which are alien intruders, such as viruses and bacteria. When lupus afflicts the body, the immune system is unable to differentiate between antigens and normal healthy tissue. The immune system then begins to attack healthy cells within the body, damaging them and causing inflammation.

The most common form of lupus is known as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE. The other forms of Lupus are Discoid (cutaneous), Drug-induced, and Neonatal.

  • SLE type of Lupus is the most severe and can affect many different parts of the body. This type of Lupus generally occurs due to environmental stimuli or by genetic disposition.
  • Discoid (cutaneous) Lupus is less severe and mostly affects the skin on the face, neck and scalp, causing a red rash. Discoid lupus is unpredictable and cannot be prevented. Less than 10% of those having this type of lupus advance to the SLE type.
  • Drug-Induced Lupus develops, due to reactions of certain drugs, mainly hydralazine (medicine for hypertension) and procainamide (medicine for heart arrhythmia). However, there are almost 400 different types of drugs, which can cause this type of a reaction. Generally, this lupus subsides, once the drug has been discontinued.
  • Neonatal Lupus is a very rare occurrence, where a fetus inherits it from the mother in the womb. The fetus or newborn child display symptoms of skin rashes and heart or blood complications. Usually, within 6 months from birth these disappear.

It is important to note that lupus is not infectious and does not spread by physical contact at all.

Symptoms and Detection

The symptoms of lupus are similar to those of various common diseases. They include an intermittent rash on the skin, swelling of joints, fever, depression, fatigue, chest pain, hair loss and mouth ulcers. These symptoms are usually mistaken for general diseases and this makes lupus difficult to detect. An additional problem in detecting Lupus is that its symptoms do not occur regularly, but come and go, as the disease “flares” and subsides.

Diagnosing lupus is difficult and currently, there is no single test to confirm it. It can take a doctor months or years to diagnose lupus and numerous tests are required. These include:

  • medical history
  • blood tests
  • skin and kidney biopsy

The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) has issued Guidelines to establish the parameters of lupus in a patient. If 4 out of the following 11 conditions are present, then lupus is confirmed.

  • Serositis – inflammation of membrane around heart or lungs
  • Mucosal or Mouth Ulcers
  • Arthritis
  • Photosensitivity
  • Blood Disorder
  • Renal Disorder
  • Antinuclear Antibody Test
  • Immunological Disorder
  • Neurological Disorder
  • Malar Rash (butterfly rash) – On Cheeks
  • Discoid Rash – red, scaly patches on skin

Sometimes it requires more than one specialist to confirm the presence of lupus.

Living with Lupus 

Currently, there is no specific cure for lupus. Only symptomatic treatment is available, which differs from patient to patient, as the disease affects every person differently.

Proper and early diagnosis can help a person live a normal life, by reducing the severity of the symptoms and by preventing complications.

While a doctor can provide medications, such as steroids and immunosuppressive drugs to combat certain inflammations, lupus patients can avoid much of the disease’s ill effects by simply educating themselves about it and making a few changes given below.

  • Regular exercise
  • Avoiding exposure to Sunlight or harsh indoor lights
  • Eliminating Smoking
  • Mind Control through meditation and Yoga
  • Building a support system
  • Pain management
  • Diet Control

Diet control is highly important as it builds up a healthy body and allays symptoms of lupus in many cases. It has been found that foods rich in anti-oxidants, such as fruits and vegetables greatly reduce inflammation caused by lupus. Calcium rich foods like milk, yogurt and green vegetables are also highly recommended, as they fortify the bones against swelling. Foods containing omega 3 fatty acids, like fish and walnuts were found to improve lupus symptoms.

Conclusion

Lupus is a disease that is more symptom-focused and hence, it is important for patients to be aware and alter their lifestyles to reduce those symptoms. The fact that it has no cure can cause depression in patients and this is the most damaging of all its effects. It is vital for the patient to understand that lupus is not life threatening and can be overcome with a little discipline and positive approach to life. Lupus patients must practice a healthy holistic living and maintain a social support system to moralize their psyche at all times. Proper diet, weight control, and a balanced mind can go a long way in reducing their symptoms greatly and allowing them to live a full and wholesome life.

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