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This Month In Health
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Health and Fitness News

Learning about Lupus

The symptoms, causes, and treatment for this often misunderstood autoimmune disease.

It mystifies its sufferers and puzzles scientists. Why the immune system mistakenly attacks a person’s own healthy organs is a mystery. A mystery known as lupus.

With lupus, a faulty immune response triggers widespread inflammation that can harm various body systems. Damage can occur anywhere. Common targets include the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, lungs, heart, and blood cells. Making it worse, there’s no cure. But with proper treatment it is often possible to find symptomatic relief.

So what are the possible causes of lupus, the common symptoms, and the proposed treatments? Keep reading to find out.

The Root of the Problem

While anyone at any age can develop lupus, certain groups of people are at a greater risk for the disease. Despite this, 9 out of 10 people diagnosed with lupus are women. You’re even more likely to get lupus if you’re a woman between the ages of 15 and 44. Other risk factors include having a family member of lupus or other autoimmune disorders or being African American, Native American, Asian American, Pacific Islander, or Hispanic/Latino.
While research is ongoing, it’s still unknown why the immune system attacks healthy tissue. Health experts believe lupus may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The disease may be triggered by hormones, infections, medications, or exposure to sunlight.

Seeing Lupus

Symptoms of lupus vary from person to person, and no two people have the same experience. Some have a gradual progression of symptoms, and others experience a sudden and dramatic onset. The severity of symptoms differs as well, from mild and tolerable to severe and life-threatening. In some cases, symptoms are short-term, while others have permanent symptoms. In most cases of lupus, symptoms come and go over the years.

The symptoms experienced depend on the body system being targeted. One of the most common symptoms of lupus is a rash. Typically found across the bridge of the nose and cheeks, the bridge takes the shape of a butterfly. Other typical symptoms include joint pain, extreme fatigue, fever, skin lesions, chest pain, shortness of breath, headaches, memory loss, confusion, dry eyes, and changing finger or toe color when cold.

Causing Extra Problems

When inflammation is severe and long term, it can harm body tissues. For many, lupus causes kidney damage, which can be deadly. If the central nervous system or brain is affected, lupus can lead to headaches, behavior changes, vision or memory problems, seizures, or stroke. When the circulatory system is targeted, you may become anemic or wind up with cardiovascular disease, blot clots, or bleeding.

Diagnosing the Disease

Because its symptoms mimic other health conditions, symptoms vary, and symptoms change over time, lupus can be hard to diagnose. Therefore, lupus isn’t diagnosed with a single test. Blood and urine tests, imaging studies, a physical exam, and possibly biopsies may be necessary to diagnose the disease.

Living with Lupus

Treatment for lupus depends on your symptoms, age, and other health conditions. If you have lupus, it’s vital to find a doctor you trust. Following doctor’s orders is essential for managing lupus. It can take months or longer to find the right balance and type of medication for your symptoms. If your symptoms subside or flare, adjustments may be made to your medications.

The goal of treatment is to control symptoms, keep your immune system functioning properly, and prevent inflammation from damaging your organs. The most common types of medications used to treat lupus are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, antimalarial drugs, immunosuppressants, and biologics. Unfortunately, drugs often come with negative side effects. If you experience unwanted side effects of lupus medication, work with your doctor to find a new medication that works better for you.

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