What is Lupus?

What is Lupus?

Lupus is a generalized term for an autoimmune disease that has many different manifestations throughout the body. These include Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Cutaneous Lupus, and Drug-Induced Lupus. The most common, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is a systemic multi-organ autoimmune disease caused by the creation of antibodies against one’s self. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus more commonly occurs in young women of reproductive age, typically diagnosed between ages 20-50, however it can occur at any age. According to UpToDate, 85% of the people diagnosed are women. The etiology is unknown, however, the autoantibodies produced collect in organs and in vessels, causing a destruction of the host cells. Symptoms can include but are not limited to: 

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Malaise
  • Widespread pain
  • Headaches 
  • Malar butterfly rash
  • Rashes after being in the sun
  • Joint pain
  • Raynaud phenomenon
  • Oral ulcerations

A malar butterfly rash (mentioned above) is a rash that extends from the bridge of the nose, to both cheeks, sparing the nasolabial folds, and is a classic symptom. In order to diagnose Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, your doctor will require blood work in order to determine if you have the antibodies that are present in lupus. Clinical findings in addition to positive antinuclear antibodies (ANA), and positive anti-dsDNA antibodies (double stranded DNA) help your provider establish the course of disease. Once diagnosed, the goal of treatment is to have the least amount of flares possible to ensure the least amount of systemic organ damage.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus can cause damage to your kidneys, lungs, heart, skin, etc. There are different stages of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus that wax and wane, and you can be considered to be in remission or having a relapse. Patients are typically prescribed hydroxychloroquine, and if the systemic effects are detrimental enough, a corticosteroid like prednisone. Patients should also wear broad-spectrum sunscreen when outdoors in order to help reduce a rash that may arise from photosensitivity. The prognosis is very good, and the 10-year survival rate is 91% (ClinicalKey).

This article reviewed by Dr. Jim Liu, MD and Ms. Deb Dooley, APRN.

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