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Understanding Lupus

Lupus is a chronic (long-lasting) autoimmune disease that affects millions of people all over the world. The nature of an autoimmune disease implies the immune system is killing normal, healthy tissues in the body in addition to the viruses and bacteria it regularly fights off.

Signs of Lupus

Much of what causes lupus is still unknown but is likely a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, lupus is most often found in women between the ages of 15-44, but can occur in men, children and teens. While people of any race or ethnicity may develop lupus, it’s 2-3 times more common in women of color.

The symptoms are quite wide-spread making a diagnosis of lupus challenging. The symptoms are experienced when sufferers have a flare-up. Frequency of flare-ups can range from sparingly to very frequent.

The Mayo Clinic defines some common areas and symptoms Lupus can affect:

  • Joints: Pain, stiffness and swelling
  • Skin: Rash on the face, skin lesions from sun exposure, mouth sores, hair loss (alopecia), fingers and toes strongly affected by cold or stress (Raynaud's phenomenon) and easy bruising.
  • Kidneys: inflammation of the kidneys
  • Blood cells: Hardening of the arteries creating chest pains and increasing chances of heart attack
  • Respiratory system: Shortness of breath and increased blood pressure in the lungs
  • Nervous system: Anxiety, depression, memory loss, headaches, and confusion
  • Other symptoms: Fever, severe weight changes, dry eyes and fatigue

Types of Lupus

There are 4 types of lupus and the symptoms are generally correlated with the specific type of lupus the sufferer has.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: The most common form of lupus that affects nearly all parts of the body, but can range from mild to severe.

Discoid (Cutaneous) Lupus Erythematosus: This form of lupus is limited to the skin and mouth. Rashes and lesions spread throughout your body with discoid lupus. The rashes are generally scaled, elevated and red, but they do not itch and are circular shaped. They may spread over the cheeks and bridge of yours nose creating what is known as a butterfly rash.

Drug-induced Lupus Erythematosus: Certain drugs have been found to react badly in certain patients and create lupus. These sufferers will experience similar symptoms to systematic lupus but with their body systems and organs undamaged. These drugs may include hydralazine, procainamide, and isoniazid. The symptoms usually disappear after medication is stopped for 6 months.

Neonatal Lupus: Neonatal lupus is an uncommon disease that affects infants of women who have lupus. Infants experience skin rashes, liver problems and low blood cell counts at birth that continue for several months and then disappear with no lasting damage. It is relatively uncommon and most women with lupus deliver healthy babies.

Living with Lupus

The severity and frequency of flare-ups highly determines how easily lupus sufferers can live with the disease. It is most important to listen to your doctor, try to stay healthy and follow general precautions.

The autoimmune nature of lupus makes it essential that you try to stay away from any viruses or colds going around. Taking vitamins, eating healthy, washing your hands, getting enough sleep and maintaining good mental health can help your body stay in top shape and avoid getting sick and having a flare-up.

Exercising regularly is vital for keeping the body healthy. While this may be difficult due to the joint pain and fatigue that sometimes comes with lupus, there are a number of light, low-impact excises like yoga, walking and swimming that can be performed to keep the body healthy. For joint pain or to prevent injury, it’s important to have the right orthopedic braces and supports.

For severe joint pain or damage, contracture management brace may be a better option. These are for muscles and joints that have been unused for a prolonged time.

Lupus sufferers are affected by sun exposure and should try to stay away from the sun at the hottest hours (noon-3pm) and protect their skin with sunscreen or clothing when in the sun. Those with lupus should get immunizations and vaccinations seasonally and take care of and cuts that could be infected. Smoking increases the chance of flare-ups and should be avoided.

Having lupus is difficult, but with the right care, it is manageable. It’s important to stay positive, listen to your doctor and take care of your body. With the right care and medication, you can minimize the effects of lupus and live a normal life.

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