Is Lupus Preventable?
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects between 1.5 and 2 million Americans, 90 percent of whom are women. Its underlying cause has yet to be discovered. While there are many methods of treatment, there is currently no way to prevent lupus.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
When people think of lupus, they most likely think of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). However, there are three other types as well. SLE usually develops in women between the ages of 15 and 44, but has been reported in children and elderly as well. SLE has a wide variety of symptoms, most all of them related to inflammation. The most common symptoms include the classic "butterfly" rash across the cheeks and nose, rashes in other places due to sun exposure, painful and swollen joints, fatigue, fever, hair loss, headaches, and weight loss. As the disease progresses, other more troublesome symptoms can develop such as kidney inflammation, depression and anxiety, pericarditis (inflammation of sac surrounding the heart), and chest pain during deep breathing. Symptoms are rarely constant, but instead come and go in "flares" - sudden appearance of symptoms - and remissions. Most treatment is aimed at keeping lupus in remission by preventing flares. Things like infection, stress, and sunlight can all trigger a flare.
Other Types of Lupus
Discoid Lupus Erythematosus: DLE is a lot like SLE but with far fewer symptoms. Patients with DLE only experience the skin symptoms of SLE: raised, red rash on the face, scalp, and sometimes sores in the mouth or nose. DLE is diagnosed with a skin biopsy of the rash. A small proportion of DLE patients will later develop SLE. This trend is quite unpredictable, however.
Drug-Induced Lupus: This form of lupus results from a reaction to some prescription medications over a long period of time (several years or more). There are currently 38 drugs known to cause Drug-Induced Lupus, the three most common of which are hydralazine, procainamide, and isoniazid. There appears to be no trend in the medications which cause Drug-Induced Lupus. Symptoms usually disappear within a few months of stopping the medication.
Neonatal Lupus: Although very uncommon, some babies of women with SLE are born with lupus. About half of these babies are born with a serious heart defect. Others often have liver problems or skin rashes.
Because the cause of autoimmune diseases is poorly understood, there are currently no methods to prevent them, including lupus. Of the four types listed above, only Drug-Induced Lupus and Neonatal Lupus could possibly be prevented (by never taking any medications or never reproducing, respectively). There are, however, currently no behaviors, foods, or drugs that can prevent the development of lupus.
One could consider lupus treatment a form of prevention as it focuses on preventing organ damage and flares of symptoms. The chronic inflammation caused by lupus can eventually damage organs like the heart, kidney, and liver if left untreated. Anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, immuno-suppressants, and even anti-malarial medications are all used to treat the inflammation of lupus. Lupus flares are prevented by good self-care. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, limiting sun exposure, learning to cope with the stress of a chronic illness, and maintaining a support system of family, friends, and medical professionals are all kinds of self-care meant to limit flares. While the outlook for "curing" lupus remains foggy, the hope that the currently rampant genetic research offers is undeniable. Perhaps in the next 10 or 20 years there will be a way to screen for lupus or a gene therapy to treat those currently experiencing it.