Lupus: Serious Conditions Associated
Lupus is a rare autoimmune disease that affects women versus men at a rate of 9 to 1. Its name comes from the Latin word for wolf, referring to the wolf-like rash that commonly develops across the face. The prognosis for lupus sufferers is better now than ever. However, there are still many complications of which those with lupus must be aware.
How Lupus Causes Bodily Harm
In any autoimmune disease, the immune system is attacking some part of the body as foreign. Normally, protein tags called antibodies are released by the immune system to help identify foreign objects. When these antibodies attach to healthy bodily tissues, they're called auto-antibodies. In lupus, auto-antibodies attach to DNA, RNA, and other molecules of the cell. This results in small clumps of antibody and their attached molecules, called immune complexes. These small immune complexes are difficult for the body to clear, getting stuck in tiny, often high pressure, capillaries and causing damage.
Some of the more common lupus complications involve the kidneys. The main function of the kidneys is to filter the blood of waste products, which then get sent to the bladder and excreted. The kidneys perform this function by forcing the blood through tiny, high pressure capillaries throughout the kidney tissue. When immune complexes become lodged in these tiny capillaries they become inflamed, preventing effective blood filtering. Kidney problems are generally first identified through an abnormal urinalysis (urine test). If the urine contains unusual amounts of proteins or blood cells, there is likely something amiss in the kidneys. Left untreated, kidney failure can result, requiring dialysis or kidney transplantation. Most lupus patients can avoid such complications by keeping lupus flares to a minimum with treatment.
Tiny capillaries also exist in the sac which surrounds the heart, called the pericardium. Immune complexes can cause harm in these capillaries just as they can in the kidneys, resulting in a condition called pericarditis. Common pericarditis symptoms include low-grade fever, fatigue, and shortness of breathing while lying down. The heart valves can also be affected by lupus. Their inflammation can cause hardening of valve tissue, making blood clots, infection, and heart failure more likely. Damaged heart valves may require replacement surgery.
Nervous System Complications
Those with lupus are also at an increased risk of developing neural problems. Up to 20% of those with lupus experience seizures, most likely caused by infection, inflammation of blood vessels in the brain, or problems with blood pressure. Strokes are also more common in those with lupus, occurring in almost 15% of patients. Less severe neural issues common in lupus patients include dizziness, visual disturbances, migraine headaches, loss of temperature or pain sensation and muscle weakness in the appendages.
Preventing Complications of Lupus
These serious conditions can be successfully avoided in many cases by keeping lupus flares under control. Identify things which commonly set off flares - like ultraviolet light or certain chemicals - and avoid them. Work closely with your doctor to stay on top of your lupus so that treatment may be taken early. It's also important simply for maintaining a positive attitude to keep friends and family close, discussing issues and concerns and establishing a network of support.