What is Lupus?

A long-term autoimmune disease, Lupus attacks healthy tissue in the body due to an over-active immune system response. In this post, we’ll discuss what causes Lupus, the different types of Lupus, who is at the most risk for getting the disease, how to recognize signs and symptoms of Lupus, how to treat it if you’ve been diagnosed and where to seek help for additional care.

Causes of Lupus

Though the causes of Lupus are largely unknown, it is believed that a combination of environmental factors and genetics play a part in those who develop it. Often something will trigger the disease such as certain medicines, infections or in some cases even exposure to sunlight. There may also be a link between those who have genetic factors that cause their bodies to maintain instead of shed dead cells, which may release substances that interfere with the immune system.

Different Types of Lupus

There are different variations of the disease, and depending on which the patient suffers from, the severity of symptoms and how they are treated may vary.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

SLE is the most common type of Lupus, can be very severe and arrives and departs in cycles. During remission, the patient will have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, but when it’s active, flare-ups will frequently occur. Because it is systemic, it affects the entire body.

Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE)

In this form of Lupus, the skin is the only part of the body affected. It mobilizes as a rash on the neck, scalp and/or face, with raised areas that sometimes flake and scar. Rashes can vary in length of time from a few days to several years. Some who have DLE will go on to develop SLE, but it’s unclear whether or not it’s progressive from one type of Lupus to the other.

Drug-induced Lupus

Those who only develop symptoms as a result of taking medicines for other ailments have this type of Lupus, which often goes away after use of the triggering drugs has been discontinued.

Neonatal Lupus

Babies born to women who have SLE Lupus are sometimes also born with the disease, though it’s thankfully a very small number. Just one percent are usually affected, and their symptoms can include skin rashes, low blood counts and liver issues. The only instance where it can be life threatening is if they’re born with a congenital heart block and may require a pacemaker.

Childhood Lupus

Another variation of the disease impacts kids in the same way it affects adults but more often affects the kidneys. Children with Lupus frequently need more aggressive treatments than their adult counterparts.

Who is most at risk for getting Lupus?

Lupus is more common in women than men and is usually detected between the ages of 15 and 45. Lupus is also more common in people of Asian, Hispanic and African American descent. There is a possible hereditary link to the disease as well.

What are the first signs and symptoms of Lupus?

General symptoms include fever, exhaustion and hair loss. Many also report severe stiffness with joints, fever, skin rashes, dry mouth/eyes, pulmonary problems and gastrointestinal issues.

Some patients endure depression, a fluctuation in weight and thyroid problems as well. In about 10 percent of those diagnosed with Lupus, a condition called Sjogren’s Syndrome is also experienced, which is a malfunction of the glands that produce saliva and tears.

What are common treatments for Lupus?

Most Lupus patients are treated with medicines that address a variety of the issues caused by the disease. They may include:

  • Steroids, to control inflammation.
  • Anticoagulants, to help stop blood clots from forming.
  • Antimalarials, to protect the skin from UV rays and rashes.
  • Immunosuppressives, to prevent the immune system from attacking the body.
  • Biologics, to improve immune system function.
  • Anti-inflammatories, to reduce swelling and relieve stiffness.

There are also new medicines being developed that target specific immune cells and alternative therapies that bring many comfort for specific symptoms.

Consult With a Medical Professional

If you are experiencing signs or symptoms of Lupus or have already been diagnosed and wish to get help with treatment, consult with Dr. Andrew Sohn in Rheumatology or our specialists at our Arthritis Clinic at Western Washington Medical Group. Complete the form on this page to make an appointment with Rheumatology, or for more general inquiries, complete this contact form.