What Is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)?
You've heard of lupus, right? Lupus is usually short for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), the most common form of lupus by far. SLE affects an estimated 1.5 million Americans, 90% of whom are women. It is a mysterious autoimmune disease that comes and goes in episodes called flares. While living with lupus can be frustrating and exhausting, there are ways to limit its activity enough to lead a fairly normal life.
Lupus is a particularly difficult autoimmune disease to diagnose because of the wide variety of symptoms it can present. No two lupus cases are the same. The following list should give a clue as to why this form of lupus is considered "systemic":
- Skin problems: Butterfly-shaped, raised red rash across the face, disc-shaped raised rashes on the scalp, neck, face, arms, or back, sores on the lips or in the mouth.
- Joint and Muscle Pain: Warm, red, and swollen joints, morning stiffness, most common in the small joints of the hands, wrists, ankles, and feet.
- Fatigue: Often limiting ability to work or exercise, increasing in severity just before a flare.
- Sensitivity to light: Ultraviolet light, specifically, tends to exacerbate rashes and trigger flares.
- Heart/Lung Problems: Inflammation of the sacs which surround these organs causes painful breathing, increased risk for heart attack and stroke, sudden pains in back, neck, and left arm.
- Fever: Many lupus patients, about 80%, have at least a low-grade fever during a flare.
- Nervous System Problems: Depression, anxiety, headaches, seizures, and sometimes memory loss
- Swollen glands: Due to over-activity of the immune system.
- Inflammation of blood vessels in skin: Causes easy bruising.
- Other symptoms: Hair loss, weight loss.
After assessing symptoms, a doctor will usually perform an antinuclear antibody (ANA) test. This test measures the concentration and characteristics of autoantibodies, or antibodies which cause the destruction of "self" tissues, in the blood. If a positive ANA test results, a doctor may further verify a lupus diagnosis with tests like urinalysis, complete blood count, complement test, or erythrocyte sedimentation rate.
It's difficult to say exact what causes SLE. It obviously has some genetic basis since it tends to run in families. The fact that it overwhelming affects women indicates that hormones may have something to do with its development as well. It's also thought that environmental triggers must be present in addition to a genetic disposition in order for the disease to appear.
Systemic lupus can be a difficult disease to live with. A person may feel perfectly fine while in remission but be unable to get out of bed when symptoms flare. Because there is currently no cure for this condition, most treatment is focused on preventing flares. In addition to minimizing ultraviolet exposure, those with lupus must work extra hard to maintain a healthy immune system - despite the fact that the immune system is to blame for the condition - by getting plenty of sleep, eating a balanced diet, and effectively managing stress in order to prevent unnecessary flares. Lupus used to be a frightening diagnosis but is less so now that doctors and patients are learning effective ways to manage and treat the disease.
http://www.4women.gov/faq/lupus.htm#7 http://www.lupusresearchinstitute.org/who.php http://www.medicinenet.com/systemic_lupus/page5.htm#6howcan http://lupus.webmd.com/guide/lupus-systemic-lupus-erythematosus-exams-and-tests