Lupus - Overview

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The full name for Lupus is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). It is a chronic disease that affects different parts of the body. Lupus is an autoimmune condition, meaning that your body's immune system (which normally protects you from infection) attacks its own tissues as though they are foreign. 

Lupus usually develops in early adulthood. However, it can affect you at any age. 

The condition usually consists of periods called flare-ups (where the symptoms worsen) and periods of remission (where there is an improvement in symptoms). The frequency of these flare-ups varies from person to person. 

SYMPTOMS

Symptoms of lupus can be generalized and affect the whole body, or just one organ.  Most people with lupus experience a feeling of tiredness, increased temperature and weight changes.

Fatigue — Fatigue is the most common symptom of lupus and can be unbearable. Almost everyone with lupus experiences fatigue at some point. Sometimes it’s the only symptom experienced. It is always a good idea to speak to your doctor to rule out other causes of fatigue.

Fever — People seem to have an increase in bodily temperature especially during flare-ups. A fever is defined as a temperature over 37.5°C.

Muscle pain — Pain or tenderness in the muscles is a very common symptom in lupus. Some people also notice muscle weakness.

Weight changes — Lupus can sometimes cause either weight loss or weight gain. Weight loss may be unintentional and due to decreased appetite or problems with the digestive system. Weight gain may be related to the body holding on to salt and water (usually linked to kidney disease) or due to increased appetite as a side effect of certain medications.

SPECIFIC ORGAN SYMPTOMS

Lupus is not limited to a single organ. Any area of the body can be affected, resulting in a variety of symptoms. It affects different parts of the body in different people. Some of the organs/systems that lupus can affect include:

Joint pain and stiffness — Joint pain and stiffness (arthritis) occur in almost all people with lupus.

Skin changes — A large majority people with lupus have skin issues. The most common rash is known as the "butterfly rash" because of its shape. It appears as an inflamed rash over the cheeks and nose after being exposed to the sun.

Sensitivity to sunlight — Many people with lupus have "photosensitivity“, making it difficult to be exposed to bright light.

Kidneys — This is one of the more serious complications. Kidney damage can progress to kidney failure over time.

Digestive system — Digestive symptoms can occur if lupus-related inflammation affects the pancreas or the intestines. Individuals can experience severe abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. 

Heart – Involvement of the heart can result in chest pain or an irregular heartbeat. If you notice this, consult your doctor. 

Lungs – This is usually inflammation of the lining around the lungs, causing chest pain or difficulty breathing.

SLE can be a very hard diagnosis to accept. Although it has no cure, it can be managed. Taking your medication as prescribed is key - even if you start to feel better. Contact your doctor if you are struggling.

 

Written by Dr Ruusa Shivute | Health Window

Reference: Signorini V, Elefante E, Zucchi D, Trentin F, Bortoluzzi A, Tani C. One year in review 2020: systemic lupus erythematosus. Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2020 Jul-Aug;38(4):592-601


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