WHAT IS LUPUS
Systemic Lupus erythematosus (SLE or Lupus) is a chronic auto immune disease that can be fatal. With recent medical advances, fatalities are becoming rare.
As with other auto immune diseases, the immune system attacks the body's cells and tissue resulting in inflammation and tissue damage.
Lupus can affect any part of the body especially the heart, joints, skin, lungs, blood vessels liver kidneys and the nervous system. The course of the disease is unpredictable, with periods of illness known as flares, alternating with remission.
Lupus can occur at any age and is commonly in women between ages 15-45. Although there is no cure, Lupus is treatable symptomatically, mainly with cortico steroids and immuno suppressants. However, many people with Lupus can lead long and substantial lives.
DO YOU HAVE LUPUS?
Have you ever been told you have protein in your urine?
Have you ever had chest pain associated with breathing for more than a few days (pleurisy)?
Have you ever been told you have a low blood count anaemia, low white cell count or low platelet count?
Do your fingers and/or toes become pale, unusually numb or uncomfortable in the cold?
Have you ever had achy, painful and/or swollen joints for more than six months?
Have you ever had an unexplained fever of over 100 degrees for more than a few days?
Have you ever had any sores in your mouth that lasted for more than two weeks?
Have you ever had a prominent redness or colour change on your face in the shape of a butterfly across the bridge of your nose and cheeks?
Have you ever-experienced persistent, extreme fatigue/exhaustion and weakness for days or even weeks at a time, even after 6-8 hours of restful night time sleep?
Have you ever had sensitivity to the sun where your skin "breaks out" after being in the sun, but it's not a sunburn?
Have you ever had an unexplained seizure or convulsion?
If you answered "yes" to at least three of these questions, it is advisable that you consult your doctor for follow up studies and/or tests. Do not however be overly alarmed as such unnecessary worries can, among others, cause your blood pressure to rise disproportionately. Stay calm until all tests have been carried out and you've been informed about the results.
GENERAL FEATURES OF LUPUS
The most common feature of Lupus is fatigue. It is a major symptom in some patients, and can be extremely distressing. The cause of this fatigue is still poorly understood, but generally, energy levels seem to improve once the disease is brought under control.
Patients suffer from skin rashes. These can affect any part of the body, the most well-known being the so called butterfly rash over the cheeks and the bridge of the nose. In many patients skin rash is made worse by exposure to ultra-violet light e.g. sunlight.
Iron deficiency or anemia may develop. Low platelet and white blood cell counts may be due to the disease or a side effect of pharmacological treatment.
Hair loss is an important feature of Lupus and is often the first sign of a disease flare. In the majority of patients the hair grows back totally once the disease is brought under control.
Flu like symptoms of either joint pains and aches involving either the hand or wrist although any joint is at risk and unlike rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus arthritis is less disabling and usually does not cause severe destruction of the joints.
DRY (SCRATCHY) EYES
Many patients with Lupus also have Sjgrens syndrome with poor tear secretion. This leads to irritation of the eyes and in some patients quite marked dryness. The use of eye-drops can have beneficial effect on the dryness of the eyes.
INFLAMMATION OF TISSUES COVERING INTERNAL ORGANS:
The thin sausage-skin covering internal organs such as the heart (pericardium) and lungs (pleura) can be inflamed leading to painful symptoms such as pleurisy.
This is a major feature of Lupus and very common indeed. It often requires both the treatment of the Lupus itself as well as the depression.
The kidney is the silent organ and often patients do not know that the kidney is involved. Urine testing is essential in Lupus patients for the early detection of kidney involvement and prompt treatment. The use of dip sticks or albustix sticks to test ones urine is highly recommended.
Acute or chronic renal impairment may develop with Lupus nephritis leading to acute or end stage renal failure. Because of early recognition and medical advancement, end stage renal failure occurs in less than 50% of patients.