Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can affect any part of your body. In the United States, nearly 1.5 million Americans live with some form of lupus.
In this disease, a person’s immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues. Nearly 70 percent of lupus are systemic, meaning it affects major organs like the heart, lungs, kidneys, or brain.
The disease presents as a wide variety of symptoms and they range from benign to life-threatening. These include joint stiffness, swelling, facial rashes, mouth sores, and seizures. Other symptoms include chest pain due to fluid around the heart or lungs, fevers, swollen glands, and low blood counts.
One constant painful symptom is chronic pain.
Unfortunately, at this time, there is no cure. The reason for this is that researchers can not definitely pinpoint the cause or causes for this disease. Indeed, they have linked a variety of different causes, such as genetics, hormones, and environmental changes.
Rather, it is likely that one or several of the above mentioned can act as triggers for this disease.
Lupus tends to cluster in families. In fact, a person has a 20 times higher risk of developing lupus if they have a sibling with the disease. A handful of gene variations have been linked to the development of the disease — lupus, and most are involved in immune system function.
Furthermore, estrogen-boosting treatments, like oral contraceptives or hormonal replacement therapy, significantly increase women’s risk of developing it.
Various viral infections have been linked to flares, including human parvovirus, herpes simplex virus, and hepatitis A. Also, Epstein-Barr, the virus that causes mononucleosis, may cause an unusual immune system response.
On the other hand, approximately 90 percent of Americans are exposed to Epstein-Barr, so it’s difficult to know whether exposure increases the risk for lupus.
Treatments will depend on the severity of the lupus. With mild to moderate symptoms, treatments will be antimalarial drugs, like hydroxychloroquine, to reduce pain and skin rashes. The focus is to protect organs and prevent damage to the body. For the most part, these drugs are effective.
Another option is corticosteroids, since the drug works quickly. However, it is a short-term therapy because of the serious side effects.
The disease is difficult to treat because there are many symptoms and drug side effects.