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Lupus is an autoimmune disease. This means that the body's natural defence system (immune system) attacks your body's healthy tissues instead of attacking only things like bacteria and viruses. This causes inflammation.
Some people with lupus have only mild symptoms. But the disease is lifelong and can become severe. Lupus may cause problems with your skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, nerves, or blood cells.
Systemic lupus erythematosus is the most common and most serious type of lupus. But there are other types of lupus. They include discoid or cutaneous lupus, drug-induced systemic lupus, and neonatal lupus.
The exact cause of lupus isn't known. Experts believe that some people are born with certain genetic mutations that affect their immune systems and make them more likely to get lupus.
Lupus symptoms vary widely, and they come and go. Common symptoms include feeling very tired and having joint pain or swelling (arthritis), a fever, and a skin rash. You may have mouth sores and hair loss. Over time, some people with lupus have problems with the heart, lungs, kidneys, blood cells, or nervous system.
There is no single test for lupus. Your doctor will check for lupus by examining you, asking you questions about your symptoms and past health, and doing some blood and urine tests. He or she will check for certain criteria to help diagnose lupus. These criteria include the butterfly rash and joint swelling.
Treatment for lupus may include antimalarial medicines to treat fatigue, joint pain, and skin rashes, corticosteroid cream for rashes, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for mild joint or muscle pain and fever. Corticosteroid pills may be prescribed if other medicines don't control your symptoms.
One of the goals of controlling mild to moderate lupus symptoms is to prevent flares. You can:
With good self-care, most people who have lupus can keep doing their regular daily activities.
Help your family and friends understand your limits and needs when your symptoms flare. Build a support system of family, friends, and health professionals.
The chances of getting lupus are higher in people who:
Lupus symptoms vary widely, and they come and go. The times when symptoms get worse are called relapses, or flares. The times when symptoms are under control are called remissions.
Common symptoms include:
Over time, some people with lupus have problems with the heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, blood cells, or nervous system.
The course of lupus varies by individual. It's hard to predict because symptoms come and go. You may not notice the symptoms for a long time. But sometimes lupus develops rapidly.
The times when you have symptoms are called flares or relapses. Remissions are times when your symptoms are under control. Flares and remissions can occur abruptly and without clear cause. There is no way to predict how bad a flare will be or how long it will last. During a flare, you may have new symptoms plus those you have had in the past.
Children can get lupus. But it usually develops in the teen years or later. When vital organs are involved, lupus in children appears to be more severe than in adults.
There are also concerns if you have lupus and are pregnant. Some people with lupus have kidney and heart problems. But most people live a normal or near-normal lifespan.
Certain things can trigger lupus flares. These may include:
Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if you have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if you have one or more of the following signs of a stroke. Symptoms of a stroke happen quickly. A stroke may cause:
Call a doctor now if you:
Call a doctor as soon as possible if you develop any new symptoms of lupus. Also call your doctor if any symptoms that you've had for a period of time get worse.
If you have not been diagnosed with lupus and you have symptoms such as joint pain, fatigue, or skin rashes, see your doctor or tell your doctor about your concerns at your next medical appointment.
To evaluate initial symptoms and treat mild lupus, you can talk with:
For long-term management of complicated lupus, talk with:
For more complicated cases of lupus, a rheumatologist is usually the primary doctor. Other specialists are consulted as needed.
There is no single test for lupus. Because lupus affects different people in different ways, it can be hard to diagnose. It can take time for symptoms to develop. And sometimes it takes weeks to years to diagnose.
Your doctor will give you an examination and ask questions about your symptoms and past health. He or she will check for certain criteria to help diagnose lupus. These include a butterfly rash, joint swelling, fatigue, being sensitive to sunlight, and mouth or nose sores.
If you have lupus symptoms and you have a positive antinuclear antibody test result, you may not need more testing.
If your doctor feels that you do need more tests, you may have one or more of these tests:
Lupus treatment can be complicated. Symptoms vary, and flares and remissions can still happen. But the goal of treatment is to find a balance between controlling your symptoms, preventing organ damage, and having fewer side effects.
Treatment for mild lupus may include:
If your lupus causes or threatens organ damage, is life-threatening, or has a serious impact on your quality of life, you may also need to take:
Some people get serious kidney disease that can't be controlled with medicine. They may need dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Adaptation Date: 2/17/2022
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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