What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lupus?
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease affecting approximately 1.5 million Americans, the major portion of which is composed of women and minorities. However, lupus occurs in both genders, all ages, and all nationalities. Like most autoimmune diseases, there is no cure for lupus. Treatments are based on preventing symptoms and restoring comfort to the patient.
Why Lupus Occurs
The exact cause of lupus is unknown. It is thought that most autoimmune diseases, lupus included, result from a single or series of genetic mutations. This is less likely in lupus, however, since only about 5% of children born to those with lupus also develop the disease.
Lupus affects everyone differently, each case presenting a different combination of symptoms. Because of this, it can be a difficult disease to diagnose. The following symptoms are the most common:
- Joint and Muscle Pain: Almost 70% of lupus sufferers reported arthritis (inflammation of the joints) as their first symptom. Joints may be painful, red, and swollen, especially in the morning. Small joints like those of the fingers, wrists and feet are often affected first.
- Fatigue: Moderate to extreme fatigue affects over 90% of lupus patients, preventing engagement in every day activities.
- Rashes: a tell-tale lupus symptom is known as the "butterfly rash" which extends over the cheeks and nose. Rashes can also appear on other parts of the body, most often on the head, face and ears.
- Light Sensitivity: Many lupus sufferers are sensitive to sunlight, which may cause or worsen rashes as well as trigger a flare (severe increase) of symptoms.
- Fever: About 80% of those with lupus often experience a low-grade fever as the result of increase immune activity.
- Heart Problems: the inflammation caused by lupus can also extend to the pericardium, a sac which surrounds the heart, resulting in pericarditis. This condition causes severe and sudden pain in the left side of the chest that can spread to the arms, back, and neck.
- Hair Loss: While rarely permanent, about half of lupus patients experience some hair loss which can be spread evenly throughout the head or in specific spots.
- Weight Loss: More than half of those with lupus report losing weight when the disease is most active (flare).
- Swollen Glands: Lupus patients also often experience tender, swollen glands due to the over-activity of the immune system.
How Is Lupus Treated?
Because there is no cure for lupus, treatment focuses on soothing symptoms. Inflammation is the major cause of most lupus symptoms and can be treated with anti-inflammatory medications or immune suppressants. It is also important to keep lupus flares at a minimum by performing "self care". Examples of self care include regular exercise to keep joints mobile, eating a balanced diet, not smoking, and maintaining a support network of friends, family, and medical professionals.