Managing Your Lupus Symptoms
Lupus is an autoimmune disease characterized by chronic inflammation and the symptoms resulting from it. Women are overwhelmingly the most common sufferers, accounting for over 90% of lupus cases, most between the ages of 15 and 45.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and Others
There are four types of lupus including Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE), Drug-Induced Lupus, and Neonatal Lupus. Because the symptoms of SLE encompass those of all other lupus types, this article will focus on SLE symptoms.
What Causes the Symptoms of Lupus?
Lupus symptoms are all generated by the immune system. Normally, the immune system uses special proteins called antibodies to isolate and tag foreign particles. The immune system usually ignores the cells and particles that make up the body and therefore doesn't tag them for destruction with antibodies. This isn't the case for those with lupus, however. In lupus sufferers, autoantibodies (or antibodies which recognize self as foreign) attach to cells and particles of the body, creating immune complexes. Normally, immune complexes are cleared by specialized cells in the body. But with so many self particles being recognized as foreign, these specialized cells can't clear them fast enough. As a result, the excess immune complexes attach to and harm the inside of blood vessels. Major organs rely on many such blood vessels, and over time can become dysfunctional as their blood vessels are destroyed. Destruction of blood vessels can also result in rashes, a common symptom of lupus.
Along with the creation of antibodies is the process of inflammation. When something is described as inflamed, it refers to the swelling, heat, pain, and redness associated with excess fluid (also containing blood) rushing to an area. For antibodies to reach their destination, they travel with this inflammation. Therefore any part of the body tagged for destruction by an antibody is also likely to become inflamed. All this excess immune activity can be very draining. Consider how wiped out you feel when you get the flu. This same fatigue is felt by lupus sufferers during a flare (sudden, strong onset of symptoms).
Managing Lupus Symptoms with Medical Treatment
Because most lupus symptoms are the result of inflammation, most lupus symptoms can be managed with anti-inflammatory drugs. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS), corticosteroids, antimalarials, and immunosuppressants are all ways to control inflammation. Treating inflammation can help prevent joint pain, fatigue, and fever associated with lupus. The common rashes of lupus can be treated with corticosteroid creams as well as limiting sun exposure - the main trigger for such rashes.
Another important and effective way to manage lupus symptoms involves taking special care of your body. Because much of the damage caused by lupus is the result of flares, avoiding triggers of these flares is essential to maintaining good health. Sunscreen and avoiding direct sunlight is a common way to avoid flares. Often the same things that make us susceptible to infection (extreme fatigue, stress, lack of exercise) can also cause lupus flares. Such flares can be avoided by getting plenty of sleep, developing a support group of family and friends to manage stress, and exercising regularly. Although there is no cure for lupus and currently no way to prevent it, life with lupus doesn't have to be miserable. Many symptoms are preventable and treatable with proper medical care and diligent self-care.