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What is Lupus?

Lupus is short for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a chronic autoimmune disease.

Autoimmune refers to a disorder that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs, causing inflammation that can damage your organs and result in loss of function.

Systemic means a disease that affects many parts of the body.

Lupus can affect almost all body systems, including your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs.

Causes | Symptoms | Treatment | Prevention

What Causes Lupus?

There is no one cause of lupus, but factors that increase your likelihood of developing it include:

  • Age and gender – women between the ages 15-45 are nine times more likely to get lupus than men
  • Genetics – lupus is more likely if an immediate family member has it or another autoimmune disease
  • Race – lupus is more common in African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American people
  • Certain drugs, oral contraceptives, vaccinations, pesticides, and biological agents can cause cellular changes and make you more susceptible to lupus
  • Abnormal levels of estrogen
  • Stress, which can cause changes to the neuroendocrine system which in turn causes changes in immune system cell function
  • For a person with an inherited predisposition for lupus:
    • Environmental factors, such as infection or sun exposure
    • Chemical exposure, such as from phthalates, a common chemical used in plastics
    • Smoking
  • Certain drugs (such as blood pressure medications, anti-seizure medications, and antibiotics), can cause drug-induced lupus which goes away once the drug is stopped

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Lupus?

Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because symptoms vary greatly from person to person, flare and subside, range from mild to severe, and often overlap with other disorders. 

The presence of four or more of the following symptoms are usually needed to diagnose lupus:

  • Butterfly rash – a red rash over your cheeks and often the bridge of your nose
  • Photosensitivity – skin that is exposed to sunlight develops a rash, especially in the spring and summer
  • Arthritis – joint pain, stiffness and swelling
  • Ulcers – most often on the roof of the mouth, but also in the nose, causing nosebleeds
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon – your fingers and toes turn white or blue when exposed to cold
  • Swollen glands (lymph nodes)
  • Fatigue
  • Continuing unexplained weight loss
  • Fever
  • Confusion and memory loss

Serious complications of lupus include:

  • Kidney damage – most people suffering with lupus will experience kidney problems. Kidney failure is one of the most common causes of death among people with lupus. Weight gain and swelling, particularly in the feet and legs, are a sign of kidney problems.
  • Lung damage – inflammation of the pleura, or lining of the lungs (pleuritis) can cause chest pain and shortness of breath. There is also an increased risk of pneumonia, and bleeding into the lungs.
  • Heart damage – inflammation of the pericardium, or lining of the heart (pericarditis), as well as inflammation of the heart muscle and arteries. The risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack increases as well.
  • Seizures and psychosis (due to the central nervous system being affected)
  • Blood and blood vessel disorders can cause anemia, inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis), and an increased risk of blood clotting or internal bleeding, sometimes resulting in necessary removal of the spleen.

Lupus increases your risk of:

  • Infection due to a weakened immune system (from the disease and from many medications used to treat it)
  • Cancer
  • Avascular necrosis – when a lack of blood supply results in the death of bone tissue, often leading to tiny breaks in the bone and, eventually, the bone’s collapse
  • Pregnancy complications – lupus increases the risk of miscarriage, preeclampsia, and pre-mature birth

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How is Lupus Treated?

Treatment for lupus typically includes a care team consisting of your primary physician, a dermatologist, a rheumatologist, a nephrologist (a kidney specialist, as regular kidney function tests are needed), and a cardiologist and pulmonologist (lung specialist) if necessary.

Treatment for lupus can include:

  • Medications, including:
    • Painkillers like acetaminophen (Tylenol), as arthritis is one of the primary symptoms of lupus
    • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce joint pain, inflammation, and stiffness due to arthritis; however side effects can cause kidney damage, heart problems, or stomach bleeding, which are already complications of lupus
    • Cortisone or prednisone, an inflammation-fighting drug that mimics the body’s production of cortisone and is the drug most commonly used to treat lupus
    • Analgesics
    • Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) or chloroquine (Aralen)
    • Topical creams
    • Immunosuppressants which change the body’s immune response, but are powerful drugs with serious side effects, and thus are usually only used when lupus becomes serious
    • Biologic agents
  • Physiotherapy, which helps patients with lupus stay active and manage arthritis pain and stiffness
  • Surgery – surgery may be necessary due to the risk of kidney, lung and heart damage. However, physiotherapy is an important part of rehabilitation.

Physiotherapy for Lupus

Physiotherapy is a drug-free and non-surgical treatment that has been proven to reduce arthritis pain. 

The goal of physiotherapy for lupus is to prevent the progression of arthritis, reduce pain and stiffness, regain strength, and increase joint mobility, function, and quality of life.

Depending on your individual needs, physiotherapy for lupus can include:

Are you seeking physiotherapy for lupus? Book an assessment today.

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Can Lupus Go Away on Its Own?

Unfortunately, no. There is no cure for lupus, but with proper treatment, symptoms can be controlled.

If you have lupus, there are things you can do to increase your quality of life, including:

  • Limiting your time in the sun, and wearing sunscreen when you are in the sun
  • Knowing how to properly care for your skin to reduce the risk of flare-ups
  • Exercising regularly; walking, swimming, and cycling are excellent aerobic exercises that have been shown to help people with lupus feel better and have more energy
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Quitting smoking 
  • Limiting stress
  • Taking fish oil supplements (a natural anti-inflammatory) and Vitamin D and calcium supplements which may be beneficial for people with lupus; however, consult your doctor first
  • Seeing your doctor regularly, as opposed to only when symptoms flare up or worsen
  • Participating in support groups for people living with lupus to help combat potential depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues

Can You Prevent Lupus?

There is no specific way to prevent lupus, however, there are steps you can take to prevent arthritis, which is a common symptom of lupus, including:

  • Exercising regularly, including stretching exercises such as yoga or tai chi, at least 30 minutes every day (regular exercise increases the flow of nutrients and blood to the joints)
  • Eating a non-inflammatory diet (avoiding sugar, and processed and refined foods) and drinking plenty of water
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

Book a Physiotherapist Consult for Lupus Today

Concerned about symptoms of lupus? Book an assessment with a physiotherapist today.

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