Lupus is an autoimmune disease that develops when the immune system can affect different parts of the body such as the joints, brain, skin, heart, lungs and the blood cells. It is estimated that around 5 million people around the world are affected by lupus and around 16,000 new cases are reported annually. It can affect people of all ages, genders and ethnic groups although certain people are at high risk of developing it including women aged 15 to 44 and individuals who have a family member with the condition. However, some people have the tendency of developing lupus which could be triggered by various drugs, in response to certain hormones, environmental factors or infections.
There are different kinds of lupus;
- Systemic lupus erythematosus is considered the most common type that affects several parts of the body
- Discoid lupus results in red rashes
- Neonatal lupus affects newborns which may develop because of certain antibodies from the mother
- Subacute cutaneous lupus causes sores with exposure to the sun
- Drug-induced lupus that subsides once the medication is discontinued
How is it recognized?
It is important to understand that no cases of lupus are alike and most of the affected individuals experience a mild form of the disease which is characterized by ‘flares’ when the symptoms become worse for a while and then disappear for a period of time. Although the symptoms are based on the part of the body affected, the most common symptoms include;
- Butterfly-shaped rash on the face
- Joint pain, stiffness and swelling
- Low-grade fever
- Sensitivity to sunlight
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Dry eyes
- Headaches, confusion and memory loss
- Hair loss
- Soreness in the mouth or nose
- Problems with the blood and blood vessels such as blood clots, anemia and fingers that turn white or blue with exposure to cold (Raynaud’s phenomenon)
Lupus is a chronic disease and therefore the objective of the treatment is to induce remission, prevent flares, reduce organ damage and other problems. Although there is no cure for lupus, medications and lifestyle changes could help in the management of the disease. The current treatment options include;
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which can decrease joint swelling and inflammation and are used to treat people with joint or chest pain, fever and swelling.
- Antimalarials that could also be used in combination with other drugs for the treatment of joint pain, skin rashes, fatigue and lung inflammation.
- Individuals with life-threatening problems such as kidney inflammation and the central nervous system symptoms need aggressive treatment with high-dose corticosteroids and immune suppressants.
- In 2011, belimumab, a B-lymphocyte stimulator (BLyS) protein inhibitor was approved by the FDA for the treatment of individuals with lupus receiving other therapies.
- Combination treatment may also be used to control the disease and to prevent tissue damage, however, it could present side effects, therefore it is important to track the symptoms and to change treatment as required.