The names of some illnesses may not ring a bell when heard or read about, but they are deadly. Amongst them is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which occurs when a person’s immune system attacks and destroys tissues and organs in the body. This can be likened to the body warring against itself. In commemoration of World Lupus Day today, we get to talk about this health condition that is highly common in women.
What is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus?
SLE is a complex multisystem autoimmune disease in which your body’s own immune system attacks your tissues and organs. It is sometimes called the chameleon of conditions as it often masquerades as other diseases and can be hard to diagnose.
SLE has symptoms similar to many other diseases and it endangers vital organs such as the brain, kidneys, heart, lungs, skin, joints, and more.
What causes lupus?
Like many autoimmune diseases, SLE does not have one specific cause. It is caused by a combination of both genetic and environmental factors which include lifestyle and behaviour. Studies state that if you have a first-degree family member with lupus, you probably have about 5% chance of developing lupus in your lifetime.
Symptoms of lupus
There are thousands of potential symptoms of lupus as it can affect any part of the body. Most of the time, the skin is affected. Hence, a common symptom is skin rashes over cheeks and nasal bridge (butterfly rash). There could be rash in other parts of the body, particularly areas that are exposed to sunlight.
Other symptoms are:
- Heavy hair loss
- Mouth ulcers
- Joint pain and swelling
Kidney, heart and muscle problems can also be found.
How is Lupus Diagnosed?
Due to its many possible symptoms, the diagnosis of SLE is not always straightforward. Ultimately, your doctor may suspect SLE by putting all of these symptoms together. Having done other required and supporting investigations, the diagnosis of lupus is confirmed by detecting anti-nuclear antibodies (ANA) in your blood. Following confirmation, the involved organs are identified and this determines the line of treatment.
Treatment of SLE
There is no known cure to SLE. However, high-dose steroids are used in the initial phase of treating lupus. In the long-term, low-dose steroids are used with steroid-sparing agents to keep the disease in remission. Depending on the severity of the disease, the treatment can vary among individuals.
What happens if the disease is not treated?
This could cause life-threatening damage of vital organs. For example, if the kidneys are damaged, it would warrant dialysis or kidney transplant.
Precautions for people with lupus
The following are advised to prevent lupus flare-ups.
- Avoid exposure to sunlight
- Use sunscreen regularly
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle by regular exercise and balanced diet
- Employ good hygiene practices to prevent infections
Can a person with SLE get pregnant?
If a person has lupus that is completely under control, it is safe to have a planned pregnancy with a completely normal baby after delivery. It is important to note that lupus is not a disease that can spread to the baby. During pregnancy, more frequent antenatal visits would be required when compared to a healthy pregnant woman.
Is lupus contagious?
SLE is not a contagious disease. It is not spread from person to person by typical means of disease transmission such as sneeze, touch, sexual contact, and so on.
A word from HealthFacts to you
Considering that SLE is such a complex disease with multiple manifestations, it is important to be faithful to your hospital visits and medications.
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