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MAIN Arrow to Health Health Arrow to Disease Diseases Arrow to LupusLupus

Lupus is a difficult disease to detect. It can take months maybe even years for an accurate diagnosis.

This is because the symptoms of lupus mimic those of so many other conditions, including thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis and even the common flu.

For most people, lupus is a mild disease affecting only a few organs. For others, it may cause serious and even life-threatening problems. As hard as it is to determine if someone has lupus, it has proven even harder to find a cure.

Currently, it is estimated that 500,000 to 1.5 million Americans suffer from lupus with more than 16,000 Americans developing the disease each year.

characteristic lupus butterfly rash
More than half of lupus
patients develop a red, flat
rash over the bridge of the
nose, frequently referred to
as the “butterfly rash”.


However, there is hope for those who suffer from lupus. Most recently, the blockbuster drug belimumab (Benlysta) has been marketed as the first new drug to fight lupus in more than half a century -- by addressing lupus symptoms (although not curing the condition.) The drug is not effective on all lupus sufferers, and those who are being treated must be carefully monitored for other illnesses due to belimumab's immune-suppressant action.

So what is lupus? Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects the skin, joints, blood, and kidneys. A fully functioning immune system makes proteins to protect the human body against viruses, bacteria, and other foreign materials.

When someone has lupus it means that the person's immune system cannot tell the difference between the foreign substances and its own cells and tissues.

When this happens the immune system makes antibodies directed against itself. These antibodies, called "auto-antibodies," react with the "self" antigens to form immune complexes. The immune complexes build up in the tissues and can cause joint stiffness & swelling, injury to tissues, and sometimes severe pain.

Who gets lupus? Scientists believe that there is a genetic link within families to the disease but it is known that environmental factors also play a critical role in triggering lupus. Some of the factors that may trigger symptoms are: infections, certain antibiotics, ultraviolet light, extreme stress, and hormones.

It is still not clear why lupus occurs more frequently among adult females than males. Lupus is often called a "woman's disease" even though many men are affected. Lupus does not discriminate and can occur at any age. The symptoms of the disease are the same in men and women.

diagram showing lupus symptoms and butterfly rash
Besides the tell-tale butterfly rash, other symptoms of lupus may include
heart and lung problems, joint stiffness, and Raynaud's phenomenon --
typified by fingers turning white (or blue) and becoming cold and tingly.

There are three types of lupus: discoid, systemic, and drug-induced. Discoid (cutaneous) lupus is always limited to the skin. It is identified by a rash that may appear on the face, neck, and scalp. This rash is usually in the unique shape of a butterfly. For some people discoid lupus progresses into systemic lupus.

When talking about the disease, it is systemic lupus that is most often mentioned. Systemic lupus is usually more severe than discoid lupus. Sometimes only the skin and joints will be involved. For others, the joints, lungs, kidneys, blood, or other organs and/or tissues may be affected. Since everyone's immune systems are different, usually no two people with systemic lupus will have identical symptoms.

Also with systemic lupus, there may periods of time in which minimal, if any, symptoms are evident and other times when the pain and discomfort becomes more intense and more frequent.

What triggers an attack of lupus? In some patients, exposure to the sun causes sudden development of a rash and other symptoms. In others, an infection as simple as a cold may act as a trigger. In still other cases, a drug taken for some illness produces the signaling symptoms.

Sometimes, the first symptoms and signs develop during pregnancy or soon after delivery. There are many people who cannot remember any specific factor. It seems that the triggers can be all unrelated for the same case of lupus, which makes it difficult for the person to pinpoint the cause of the flare.

There can also be times when someone who has been diagnosed with lupus shows no signs or symptoms at all. These remission periods are a blessing, but often are short-lived. Lupus patients know that there is no cure so there is bound to be a flare up that will be debilitating. Although flares are inevitable, the earlier they are detected, the more easily they can be controlled.

So until a cure is discovered, how else is lupus treated? For the majority of people with lupus, effective treatment can minimize symptoms, reduce painful swelling, and maintain normal bodily functions. Over-the counter-pain medications and steroid medications can reduce joint pain and swelling, and preventive measures like staying out of the sun can reduce the risk of flares. A variety of other lupus medications are often prescribed for people with lupus depending on the severity of the individual's case and which organs are involved.

If lupus is treated early, the patient's chances increase for reducing the time spent on high doses of drugs and decreasing permanent tissue or organ damage. One of the most important things that every person diagnosed with lupus can do is to find a lupus support group.

With better understanding of the disease and the development of new drugs to fight it, the prognosis of lupus is much better today than ever before.

More about lupus around the Web:

also see -> Arthritis

This information is intended as reference and not as medical advice.
All treatment decisions should be made by medical professionals.


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