According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1.5 million Americans have lupus. “Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is an autoimmune disease that can involve multiple organs of the body,” Vaidehi Chowhardy, MD, clinical chief, Yale Medicine Section of Rheumatology, Allergy & Immunology and associate professor of medicine, Yale School of Medicine explains to Eat This, Not That! Health. What exactly is lupus, who is most likely to get it and what are the signs you might have it? Read on to learn everything you need to know about lupus—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You Had COVID And Should Tell Your Doctor.
Dr. Chowhardy explains that while the exact reasons for development for lupus are not known, a genetic predisposition, combined with dysfunction of the immune system, can lead to it. “The normal function of the immune system is to help us fight infections. However, in autoimmune diseases like lupus, the immune system goes awry and attacks different organs, leading to their malfunction or failure,” she explains. There are a few key signs you may have lupus, according to Dr. Chowhardy, read more to check if you have them.
One of the key symptoms of lupus is persistent joint pain and swelling, “especially in hands, feet or other areas,” she explains. The pain generally occurs in the morning and is associated with prolonged stiffness.
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Lupus also manifests itself in the skin, via rashes over face or other areas. Dr. Chowhardy adds that they tend to be worse in the sun.
There are also a few nonspecific symptoms, she reveals. These include unexplained fever, fatigue and malaise or weight loss.
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There are other symptoms to look out for, per Dr. Chowhardy. They include low blood counts “without a clear reason,” protein in the urine, seizures, strokes in young people, blood clots or recurrent pregnancy losses. Internal organ involvement of kidneys, heart, nervous system, lungs, etc. is “less common” but “can be very serious.”
While anyone can get lupus, women are much more likely candidates. Per the CDC, about 9 out of 10 diagnoses of lupus are in women ages 15 to 44. Dr. Chowhardy explains that other triggers for the disease include infections like Epstein Barr virus, hormonal changes, ultraviolet light, smoking and certain medications. “However, for majority of patients the triggers remain unknown,” she points out.
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Treatment of SLE is directed by the symptoms and organ involvement. “Your physician will do a series of laboratory and imaging tests to determine the extent of the disease,” says Dr. Chowhardy.
Immunomodulatory medications like hydroxychloroquine are first line for skin, joint and other manifestations of lupus. Additional medications like Azathioprine, Methotrexate, Belimumab may be needed for persistent symptoms. Kidney, heart or nervous system problems need stronger medications like cyclophosphamide or Rituximab.
Dr. Chowhardy suggests contacting your medical care provider if you think you may have lupus. “Your physicians can perform blood tests for lupus if there is a high suspicion,” she says. And to get through life at your healthiest, don’t miss: This Supplement Can Raise Your Cancer Risk, Experts Say.