Article by Stuart McClymont
What is Lupus?
Lupus is a condition in which your immune system produces autoantibodies that attack your body’s own cells, tissues and organs. This can cause inflammation in many different parts of your body, though most people will only have a few of the possible symptoms. It is not yet known why the immune system produces these harmful autoantibodies.
Types of Lupus
There are two main types of Lupus:
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). This is a more severe form of the condition that can affect many parts of the body, including the skin, joints and internal organs. It is also the most common form of Lupus.
Lupus Limited to the Skin. There are 3 types:
There are also additional specialised forms of Lupus that include drug-induced, neonatal and childhood forms.
What are the Symptoms of Lupus?
Symptoms of lupus can include:
The number and severity of symptoms range greatly from person to person. Many people will have long periods with few or no symptoms before experiencing a sudden flare-up, where their symptoms are particularly severe. All cases of Lupus can be distressing and can have a considerable impact on a person’s quality of life.
Some medications can also cause lupus-like side effects, therefore, if you think you have symptoms of lupus you must discuss this with your GP.
How is Lupus Diagnosed?
Doctors will make the diagnosis of Lupus based on the history of your illness, a physical examination and blood tests. You may also be referred to skin specialist or a Rheumatology specialist to help with diagnosis and decide the most effective way to manage the symptoms.
Depending on which organs your doctor or specialist thinks may be affected you may also have urine tests , X-rays, an ultrasound scan, a computerised tomography (CT) scan or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to investigate further.
Blood test results help to distinguish lupus from other conditions that may have similar symptoms. The following blood tests may be used by your doctor to help with diagnosis:
These tests may also be taken at regular intervals to monitor the systems affected by Lupus and determine the most appropriate treatments.
Lupus and Pregnancy
Women and their doctors are understandably cautious about being on certain drugs during pregnancy. Women with lupus should be able to have a baby if they want to, but it’s best to discuss your plans with your doctors before trying for a baby. This is because your treatments may need to be altered.
It is best to plan your pregnancy when your lupus is inactive and you’re taking as little medication as possible.
The management of Lupus focuses on medication, managing each presenting symptoms. This means treatment can vary between individuals. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a vitally important aspect in helping manage the condition. Smoking, having a poor diet and being sedentary can worsen the symptoms of Lupus.
The drugs used to treat Lupus depends on the severity of the condition and which parts of the body are affected. Treatments are often changed or adjusted as symptoms flare-up up or improve.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. naproxen, ibuprofen)
Steroid tablets (e.g. prednisolone)
Antimalarials (e.g. hydroxychloroquine)
Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) (e.g. azathioprine, ciclosporin, methotrexate)
Biological therapies (rituximab)
Several new biological therapies which target cells and molecules believed to be part of the cause of lupus, are still undergoing clinical trials.
Managing Symptoms Effectively
Fatigue is a very common symptom of Lupus. It can fluctuate greatly, meaning that you can have good and bad days and it can be a major problem. Sometimes fatigue is caused by anaemia or an underactive thyroid gland, this can be identified by a blood test and treated. However, if there is no specific cause of your fatigue it can be more difficult to deal with. Pacing activities and doing activity/ fatigue diaries can help manage the fluctuations in activity and assist a person to achieve their goals.
Staying Active and Exercising
Being active and exercising, is an excellent way to help deal with stresses of having Lupus and managing fatigue. Regular exercise also helps to improve eating and sleeping habits, which will lead to better general health and better mental health.
Relief of Muscle and Joint Stiffness, Tenderness and Pain
People with Lupus often find getting a regular restorative sleep difficult. Understanding sleep and its influence on health is important in helping people who suffer from Lupus. Poor sleep health can affect:
Improving Your Ability to Cope with Daily Stress and Depression
Daily stresses from work or home can increase your Lupus symptoms. You and your physiotherapist can work with your GP to help you develop strategies to manage these stresses.
Referral to a psychologist can also help in developing strategies to cope with stressful situations.
Surgery is not used to treat Lupus. However, if a doctor or specialist felt there was a problem that needed surgery, and this was influencing, or being influenced by your Lupus, then surgery for that specific problem may be an option.
If you have any concerns or have some specific questions regarding your condition, please ask your physiotherapist or GP. Also check out
http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/conditions/lupus.aspx - Arthritis Research UK
http://www.lupus-sle.org/index.html - Lupus Foundation
FAQs about Lupus
Lupus Treatment Options
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