Today there is still a lot of ignorance about this disease. People think it’s cancer and they’re going to die; What are the realities of this dreaded disease?
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is known as the great copycat, because its symptoms mimic other diseases. SLE is a chronic inflammatory process that affects the joints, kidneys and skin and does not treat it can cause death. Lupus is difficult to diagnose as your symptoms appear and go away.
The American Lupus Foundation has revealed that on average, it can take three or four years and visit more than three doctors to make the diagnosis. Lupus is a disease that affects women more between the second and fourth decade and is more common in black and Asian people.
The first thing you may notice are symptoms of general tiredness and discomfort, even after you’ve slept and rested. You may also have skin rashes, hair loss, joint pain, or chest pain when you breathe deep.
We don’t know what causes this disease. However, genetic, hormonal and environmental factors (viruses, sun rays, and drug allergies) have been found to interact with each other to cause abnormalities in the immune system. The immune system is our defense system, because it protects us from infections by producing antibodies. In lupus patients the immune system instead of producing antibodies that protect us, antibodies are produced that attack the patient’s organs and cause the disease.
Thediagnosis of SLE is difficult. To make the diagnosis we need to do a good medical history, physical examination, family history and laboratory tests. We can’t make the diagnosis of lupus based on a single lab test. Patients often arrive at the office thinking they have lupus because they have a positive “ANA Test”, however this test is not unique to lupus.
Symptoms of lupus are varied and include fever, tiredness, arthritis, butterfly-shaped rashes on the face, rashes on sun-exposed areas of skin, hair loss, seizures, clotting problems, abortions, decreased hemoglobin, platelets, proteins and blood in urine.
Treatment is individualized according to the patient’s symptoms. It is not possible to discuss each of them in detail in this space, but I will tell you that only your rheumatologist can recommend the most appropriate treatment according to your clinical picture, because it is the one who knows you best and who has the most knowledge about the disease.
There are a wide range of possible therapies, ranging from nonsroidal anti-inflammatory (ibuprofen, naproxen), to anti-malaric agents such as hydroxychloroquine..
More aggressive therapies such as steroids (cortisone) and other medications such as azatropin and cyclophosphamideare recommended in more serious patients who have kidney, lung, brain or heart damage. Mycophenolate has recently been used in cases of kidney damage from lupus. Today there are many products under research that promise to contribute in a favorable way to improve the quality of life of the patient with SLE.
Medications are just one aspect of treatment for lupus. Other important aspects are avoiding sun exposure, having a healthy lifestyle: exercising, not smoking, eating properly by always observing your cholesterol and triglyceride levels and reducing “stress”. If you’re a young woman and you want to get pregnant, you should discuss it with your obstetrician and your rheumatologist.
Education is a crucial part of your treatment, because the more you know about your condition, the more you can help. You might also help your doctor by identifying symptoms that suggest possible complications early.
Don’t give up hope. Today lupus is a treatable disease and with proper care, most patients can lead a normal life.