Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, kidneys, heart and nervous system. the immune system loses its ability to tell the difference between foreign substances or antigens, and its own cells and tissues.
Lupus can occur at any age and in either sex although it is 10-15 times more frequent in women than men.
There are three types of lupus:
- Discoid Lupus which affects only the skin.
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) which is more severe and affects almost any organ or system of the body.
- Drug-induced Lupus which occurs after the use of certain prescribed drugs and has symptoms similar to those of systemic lupus. Most often when 'lupus' is mentioned, the systemic form of the disease, SLE, is referred to.
There are 11 signs and symptoms used for the diagnosis of SLE, some of which can only be detected by your doctor by performing various tests. A person is diagnosed as having lupus if any four or more symptoms are present. The symptoms do not all have to occur at the same time.
- A rash over the cheeks also called 'Butterfly Rash'.
- Raised red circular rashes.
- Reaction to sunlight resulting in the development of, or an increase in skin rashes.
- Ulcers in the mouth, usually painless.
- Arthritis involving two or more joints.
- Serositis - Pleuritis or pericarditis. That is inflammation of the cavity surrounding the lungs or heart.
- Renal abnormalities, such as excessive protein in the urine and/or cellular casts.
- Neurological disorder, such as convulsions and/or mental disturbance.
- Haematological disorder, such as low red or white blood cell or platelet counts.
- Positive LE (Lupus Erythematosus) cell and other diagnostic tests.
- Positive anti-nuclear antibody test.
The cause of lupus is not known. It is believed that factors such as genetics, ciruses, ultraviolet light, and drugs may all play a role in activating autoimmune disturbances.
What you can do
- See a doctor if you have any four of the above signs and symptoms.
- See a doctor if you have a cold or more serious infection that does not get better.
What your doctor can do
- Examine you and perform diagnostic tests to confirm lupus.
- Minimise symptoms, reduce inflammation and maintain normal bodily functions based on the specific needs and symptoms of the individual. Medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) example, aspirins, corticosteroids, anti-malarial or cytotoxic drugs are commonly used.
- Refer you to a specialist when unresolved questions arise or complications develop. For example, you would see a nephrologist for a kidney problem or a dermatologist for a skin problem. Most often, a rheumatologist specialising in lupus is recommended.
- Follow you up regularly.
- Avoid sun exposure as ultraviolet light can precipitate and worsen the skin condition.
- Wear clothing that covers the extremities.
- Apply sunscreen.
- Avoid stopping your medications abruptly, especially corticosteroids.
- Report to the doctor if there is any unexpected fever or symptoms, such as chronic cough. Patients with systemic lupus are at an increased risk of infections.
- Maintain regular contact with the doctor to allow monitoring of symptoms, disease activity and treatment of side effects.