What is lupus?
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system targets and attacks its own tissues and organs. Interestingly, more than 90% of lupus patients are women, and most of them start experiencing symptoms when they are of childbearing age (15-49 years according to WHO).
Note: While the term lupus can refer to a localized skin condition, this article is referring to the systemic autoimmune disease, systemic lupus erythematosus.
What causes lupus?
The specific reason for getting lupus is unknown. Researchers understand, however, lupus involves some interaction among various factors including one's genes, ethnicity, immune system, hormones, and the environment.
In certain vulnerable people, exposure to UV rays, certain infections, and drugs have been found to play a role in promoting lupus.
Several factors make a person more likely to develop lupus:
- Female gender
- Childbearing age
- African American
- Asian American
- Native American
- Pacific Islander
- Having a family member with lupus (genetics)
What is the first sign of lupus?
Lupus is a lifelong disease that can directly or indirectly affect any part of your body. The signs and symptoms of lupus depend on whether you develop the disease as a child or an adult. Most lupus patients visit their doctor with rash or joint pain as the initial complaint.
In children, the following symptoms and signs are common:
- Malar rash (a butterfly-shaped rash involving the cheeks and the bridge of the nose)
- Increased tendency for bleeding
- Pale or anemic appearance
- Joint pain
In adults, the following symptoms and signs can also be observed:
- Dry and itchy eyes
- Dry mouth
- Fingers and joints turning pale or bluish on exposure to stress and cold
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
Other symptoms and signs include the following:
- Rash that worsens on exposure to the sun
- Mental changes
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain abdomen
- Weight loss
- Nerve pain
- Memory impairment
- Frequent spontaneous abortions
The classic triad of lupus is the presence of rash, fever, and joint pain in a female of childbearing age.
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Is lupus curable?
Lupus does not have a cure. As lupus involves different organs in the body, the treatment aims to provide relief from the symptoms and improve quality of life, along with preventing further damage to the organs. Thus, treating lupus is a lifelong process.
Many drugs are used in treating lupus:
- Antimalarials (hydroxychloroquine)
- Corticosteroids (methylprednisolone, prednisone)
- Nonbiologic DMARDs (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs):
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs):
- Biologic DMARDs
Is lupus contagious?
No. Lupus does not spread from person to person by touch or any other means. Since it depends on many factors including genes and immunity, you cannot "catch" lupus like the flu or other infections.
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Lupus Foundation of America. <https://www.lupus.org/>.
Switzerland. World Health Organization. <https://www.who.int/>.
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