Lupus or lupus erythematosus is a complex condition that can produce a wide range of symptoms. In the past, it was not well understood and often regarded as a terminal condition. However, in recent times, the advancement of science has led experts to a more nuanced understanding of the disease, ensuring more effective treatment and a better prognosis. Scientists are discovering new treatments and methods to reduce lupus symptoms and help people with the illness live full, active lives.
Autoimmunity is an abnormal immune response in the body. An individual with lupus has an overactive immune system that cannot differentiate between healthy and unhealthy tissues. Rather than producing antibodies to counter the action of foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, the body produces autoantibodies without provocation, which then attack healthy tissues in the body. The autoantibodies can cause many symptoms to appear, ranging from pain and inflammation to other kinds of damage and discomfort.
Lupus is not a curable disease. It is a chronic disease, which means that once contracted, an individual has the condition for life. It is, however, periodically potent, so people experience periods with symptoms and periods without them. These alternating time periods are called flares and remissions. The goal of treatment is to lessen the frequency and severity of flare-ups. Treatments can improve the quality of life for people with lupus and prevent the disease from impeding routine activities.
Scientists do not fully understand why immune systems behave differently in some individuals. What is known is that a combination of genetic factors and environmental influences can put certain individuals at higher risk of developing lupus than others. Those with a family history of lupus are more likely to develop similar problems with autoimmunity. Exposure to ultraviolet light, smoking, puberty, pregnancy, induced hormonal changes, and certain infections are linked to the disease. The development of lupus connected to the Epstein-Barr virus is also a primary risk factor. It is most commonly found in women of childbearing age between the ages of 15 and 45, though everyone is at risk of developing the condition.
Lupus is a disease that is somewhat tricky to diagnose, since many of the symptoms it produces are nonspecific, meaning they apply to a range of health conditions. Symptoms can also differ from person to person. The most commonly occurring symptoms are extreme fatigue, joint problems, including pain and inflammation, and skin rashes, particularly on the hands, feet, and face. The rash tends to appear in a butterfly shape that spreads across the nose and cheeks, and it is among the most distinctive of all lupus symptoms. Lupus can also cause a low-grade fever, headaches, migraines, hair loss, hypertension, swollen lymph nodes, ulcers in the mouth, chest pain, and in some cases, memory loss and seizures.
Because each lupus case is unique, for some, it may produce only mild symptoms, with flares being slightly problematic but easily controlled with proper medication. For others, lupus may lead to serious complications. It can cause kidney malfunctions, problems with the central nervous system, and respiratory and cardiac disease, as well as issues with healthy blood circulation. Lupus may also leave individuals more vulnerable to bacterial and viral infections, cancerous tumors, bone loss, and complications with pregnancy.
The treatment of lupus is often a series of trial-and-error attempts to control the condition. These adjustments help doctors arrive at a combination of medications that works best for the individual. Physicians observe the particular symptoms a person exhibits and prescribe medication accordingly. The severity of the symptoms and where in the body the issues arise dictate what course of action the doctor takes to manage the disease.
Experts have found that healthy changes to the diet can help relieve some lupus symptoms. Some foods that have an anti-inflammatory effect, such as fruits, vegetables, and those rich in omega-three fatty acids, may reduce lupus flares. Foods rich in calcium and vitamin D are also essential as they improve bone and muscle health, and lupus can compromise the absorption of these minerals. Finally, maintaining a balanced diet with the correct proportions of all macro-nutrients is critical.
An estimated five million people are living with lupus throughout the world. While relatives have a higher likelihood of developing the disease, it is not universally passed down through families. Many people live with the illness and do not discover it until they begin to experience more severe symptoms.
The four types of lupus are: • Systemic lupus erythematosus: Systemic lupus is the most common and severe form of the disease. It affects the skin, lungs, blood, and kidneys. • Lupus discoid: Lupus discoid only affects the skin and causes rashes to appear. The rash can develop anywhere on the skin surface but usually strikes the scalp, neck, and face. Lupus discoid does not harm internal organs, but 10% of people living with it eventually develop systemic lupus. • Drug-induced lupus: Drug-induced lupus is a reaction to a medication and generally subsides once the drugs run their course. • Neonatal lupus: Neonatal lupus is rare, but babies can be born with the condition if the mother has lupus.
Living with lupus or any chronic condition can be difficult. The unpredictable symptoms of joint stiffness, pain, confusion, depression, and fatigue can take a hefty toll on energy reserves. Managing a chronic condition requires frequent communication with family, friends, coworkers, employers, and doctors. People with lupus should discuss their health restrictions and needs with those around them, stressing the importance of maintaining a manageable schedule that affords them time to practice self-care.
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