What is lupus?
Lupus is an autoimmune disease. Those who have lupus have overactive immune systems that start attacking their healthy cells and tissues and cause inflammation, swelling, and damage to multiple organs and joints. There are multiple types of lupus including systemic, erythematosus, drug-induced, and neonatal. However, when most people refer to lupus, they are usually talking about systemic lupus. Systemic lupus impacts the entire body and symptoms can range from mild to very severe. This type of lupus can affect any organ or organ system in the body and normally occurs in cycles of flare-ups and remission.
Erythematosus lupus only affects the skin and the most common symptom is a rash that appears on the neck, scalp and face. The rash can create scarring and last up to several years with recurring incidences and those with this type of lupus can develop systemic lupus later in life.
Drug-induced lupus occurs due to a reaction to certain drugs, including hydralazine for hypertension and procainamide for heart arrhythmia. Neonatal lupus refers to the condition present in some infants born of mothers who have autoantibodies relating to lupus.
Risk factors for lupus include gender (females are nine times more likely than males to have lupus), age (lupus is usually diagnosed in those ages 15-45), genetic factors such as race and family history, and environmental factors including medication, smoking, and viral infections.
Those who have lupus can experience a variety of symptoms and no two cases are exactly alike. Common symptoms include pain and swelling in the joints, sensitivity to the sun, chest pain when breathing, fatigue, hair loss, arthritis, skin rashes, and loss of appetite. Lupus can also cause high blood pressure, anemia, and fluid in the lungs. Treatments include applying cold packs and heating pads, exercising regularly, avoiding stress, and limiting exposure to the sun. Medications such as immunosuppressive drugs and steroids are also common treatments, but these can have unwanted side effects and patients can become dependent on them.