What is Lupus?
Most of the time when people refer to lupus, they’re referring to systemic lupus – more formally called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). This autoimmune disease can affect every part of a patient’s body, but most frequently people experience symptoms related to their skin, joints, kidneys, and heart.
In addition to SLE, the most common type of lupus, there are three other variations of lupus. These include:
Drug-induced Lupus Erythematosus
Drug-induced lupus erythematosus is a condition that occurs when prescription drugs cause a reaction very similar to lupus. Although there are a variety of drugs associated with this condition, the most common are hydralazine, procainamide, and isoniazid, which are used to treat high blood pressure, heart arrhythmia and tuberculosis. While the symptoms of drug-induced lupus are similar to standard SLE, they will usually go away within 6 months of the patient stopping the medication.
Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus
Cutaneous lupus erythematosus is a condition like lupus, but the effects are limited to the patient’s skin. The skin-related symptoms associated with cutaneous lupus include painful and red rashes, hair loss and changes in skin pigmentation.
This condition isn’t exactly lupus, as it occurs when a baby is born with symptoms caused by exposure to their mother’s lupus antibodies during gestation. Fortunately, risk factors for neonatal lupus are easy to identify, and even if the baby is born with symptoms, they typically disappear with no lasting effects within a few months.
Typical Lupus Symptoms
Lupus is an episodic disease, where symptoms may occur regularly over a period of time then disappear suddenly without warning. These episodes are called “flares,” and can make it very confusing and difficult for people to understand what’s going on with their health or to get an accurate diagnosis.
The symptoms most typically associated with lupus vary depending on the patient, but the most commonly identified ones are:
- Joint pain
- Shortness of breath
- Dry eyes
- Headaches and memory loss
- Sensitivity to sunlight or bright fluorescent lights
While these symptoms alone may not arouse immediate suspicion, there are two unique symptoms that are typical of lupus. The first is a red rash on the face that covers the cheeks and nose. It’s often called a butterfly rash because of its shape. The second is a symptom known as Raynaud’s Disease, and involves a person’s fingers and toes getting numb and turning blue or white when they’re cold or feeling stressed.
Getting Diagnosed with Lupus
There isn’t one single test that a doctor uses to determine a lupus diagnosis. Instead, the physician will take your personal medical history, listen to your symptoms, and do several blood, urine, and tissue tests which can reveal if certain areas of the body are functioning normally, or if they’re inflamed or damaged. Once the doctor has determined that lupus is the cause of your symptoms, he or she will work with you to formulate an effective treatment plan.
The Best Lupus Treatment Options
The goal of a lupus treatment plan is to limit the inflammation and damage due to the patient’s overactive immune system, reduce the frequency of flares, and lessen the severity of symptoms. Typically, this is accomplished through a variety of medications, including some very promising biologics administered via injection.
The most common medications used to treat lupus and its symptoms include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), which are used to treat symptoms including pain, fever, and swollen joints.
- Antimalarial drugs that help control the immune system.
- Immunosuppressants which suppress an overactive immune system.
- Corticosteroids to help control inflammation.
Another treatment that’s been very promising for people suffering from lupus is Benlysta, a biologic that’s administered via infusion every 2-4 weeks. Benlysta is the first and only approved biologic treatment designed to treat lupus.