Lupus, not the most well-known disease around, the limelight frequently stolen by cancer and heart disease. Lupus is a lifelong, chronic plague and there are some quite famous people who have it and you may not have realised. Selena Gomes, actress and pop idol from the States recently shared her secret posting on Instagram due to her requirement for a kidney transplant. She is in good company – Lady Gaga, Seal, Michael Jackson and Elaine Paige.
In the 21st century, fessing up about a health condition of life problem is right in vogue. The internet and blogging, in particular, allows insights into people’s lives for good and ill. Sharing someone’s Lupus journey and their diagnosis stories are educational, insightful and ultimately, inspirational.
What is Lupus and what causes Lupus?
Lupus disease is an auto immune malfunction; the immune system basically goes into overdrive and attacks the body it is designed to protect. Similar to Psoriasis although not just confined to the skin, it is a totally pervasive and systemic condition. The full name is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE which reflects its ability to impact on almost any part or system of the body.
What causes Lupus is unknown. Scientists and clinicians understand the process occurring within the human body, essentially the immune system has lost the ability to differentiate between healthy tissue and unwelcome invaders or antigens. They know that specific things can trigger it such as stress but what causes Lupus to develop in one person and not another eludes the researchers still.
Is it possible to determine the signs of Lupus or are they confused with other illnesses?
Because of the many manifestations of Lupus, mixing it up with another issue is quite probable. The signs of Lupus are so wide-ranging, essentially revolving around inflammation which can occur almost anywhere in the body. Add into the mix periods of remission and normal life activity and you get the idea that Lupus is a complex disorder.
Medics at the American College of Rheumatology have narrowed down the signs of Lupus to around a dozen including but not limited to:
- a skin rash which is butterfly shaped plus other raised angry patches or weals
- a high protein count in a urine sample
- Sensitivity to light
- Arthritis or aching, inflammation and soreness in at least two joints
- Positive ANA – Anti Nuclear Antibody – blood test
The signs of Lupus in adults are pretty similar to the signs in a child, children are just harder to diagnose due to their tender years and potential difficulties in communication but the diagnosis criteria do not differ enormously.
Can my ordinary practitioner make a Lupus diagnosis?
A family doctor or GP would not have sufficient knowledge or specialism to offer a definitive Lupus diagnosis. Instead, he will likely refer you with the available symptomatic evidence plus clinical history to a specialist treatment center offering both diagnosis and ongoing treatment guidelines and treatment options.
Lupus Treatment Centers
In the UK, a nationwide network of treatment centers of excellence was established at large hospitals throughout the country reflecting the disparate and diverse symptoms of Lupus and the wide variety of treatment options.
The stated aim was to create the best treatment centres for focal and specialist care for Lupus patients in locations which offered a breadth of knowledge and collaborative medicine. Across the pond, the Lupus Foundation of America is doing the self-same thing, aiming to centralise expertise and know-how so that Lupus is treated holistically rather than within differing branches of medicine.
What actual treatments are there available for Lupus?
Because Lupus does not have a cure as such, treatment options center around symptomatic management combined with cutting edge research to advance diagnosis and the ultimate quest for a solution.
There are medications both oral and injectable which are used to control the symptoms of Lupus. Your prescription will depend wholly on your particular needs and lifestyle challenges. Here is a brief summary of some drugs you might expect to see on the pharmacist’s list for Lupus treatment:
- Anti-inflammatory medication must be top of the list, the most commonly prescribed variant for Lupus dealing with discomfort and pain and the imperative to break the destructive cycle of inflammation but sometimes, over the counter options like Ibuprofen are all that is needed. These are denoted as Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatories or NSAID, a more appropriate starting point than steroids due to fewer side effects but still not to be popped like Smarties, higher doses require a prescription.
- Antimalarials, Plaquenil or Aralen, often used in conjunction with other remedies like steroids, they are commonly the drug of choice for mouth ulcers and rashes and lesions on the skin, they have fewer adverse reactions than steroids.
- Immunosuppressives developed to cool down the overactive immune system, often a choice of last resort as they carry serious side effects.
- Corticosteroids, sometimes required during an acute flare-up, most popularly Prednisolone, usually in tablet form but can be administered intravenously. High dosages are always tapered off as soon as possible.
- Anticoagulants because of the propensity of Lupus to cause life-threatening blood clots, so Heparin and Warfarin.
Many diagnosed with Lupus will seek natural treatment alternatives because so many of these prescribed remedies have to be used long-term. There is a desire to avoid reliance on strong chemicals but also a psychology need to take control and become empowered in living with this convoluted and multi-faceted illness.
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