Lupus is a broad term for several autoimmune disorders that weaken the body’s immune system by producing antibodies that attack healthy cells, tissues and organs. The name “lupus” usually refers to the most common form, systemic lupus erythematosus. This disease is called systemic because it can affect many parts of the body. It is characterized by inflammation and damage to different tissues and organs with many symptoms including fatigue and fever, swollen or painfully inflamed joints, and skin rashes. Lupus may affect the kidneys, heart, lungs, blood and blood vessels, central nervous system and peripheral nerves. It may suddenly flare up and then retreat into remission.
The cause of lupus is unknown, but it is believed that genetic, environmental and other factors may trigger the disease. Research indicates that lupus may run in families, but to date it has not been linked with a specific gene. It is thought that a combination of several genes may increase the chance of developing lupus. It is not possible to transmit lupus from person to person.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1.4 million Americans—mostly women—have lupus. Nevertheless, lupus is difficult to accurately diagnose. There is no definitive test for lupus and symptoms may change over time.
While there is no cure for lupus, the symptoms can be managed with medication. Research currently underway is focused on providing a greater understanding of the disease and finding ways to maintain remission. It is hoped that research will ultimately lead to a cure.
Symptoms & Signs
(Not all symptoms and signs may be present.)
- Hair loss
- Headaches, seizures
- Kidney problems
- Loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea
- Rash across the face and nose
Raynaud’s phenomenon (pale or purple fingers or toes from exposure to cold temperatures)
- Skin ulcers inside mouth and on the tongue
- Sensitivity to sun
Serositis (inflamed linings of organs such as the heart and lungs causing chest pain and difficulty breathing)
- Swollen joints
- Swollen glands
- Pain, numbness and tingling in hands or feet
Evaluation & Tests
(Not all evaluation and tests may be necessary.)
- Neurological exam
- Nerve conduction velocity test
- Antinuclear antibody (ANA) test
Blood tests (for presence of antinuclear [ANA] antibody and for sedimentation rate determination)
- Urine test
- Biopsy of skin or kidney
Treatment & Therapy
(Not all treatments and therapies may be indicated.)
Treatment focuses on relieving pain by reducing inflammation, slowing joint and bone damage and improving the ability to function with the disease.
- Rest and exercise programs
- NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen and Aleve®) to reduce joint inflammation and pain
- COX-2 inhibitors (Celebrex® ) for pain and inflammation
- Antimalarial medication (hydroxychloroquine [Plaquenil®]) to suppress immune response
- Corticosteroids (prednisone [Deltasone®], hydrocortisone, methlyprednisolone [Medrol®], dexamethasone [Decadron®, Hexadrol®]) to suppress inflammation
- Immunosuppresive medications (azathioprine [Imuran®], cyclophosphamide [Cytoxan®, Neosar®] to slow or reduce immune response
- Take safety measures to compensate for loss of sensation