Lupus, also known as lupus erythematosus, is an autoimmune disease that causes defense cells to attack healthy cells in the body, which can cause inflammation in various parts of the body, especially joints, skin, eyes, kidneys, brain, heart and lungs.
Generally, lupus is more common in young women, between 14 and 45 years old, and its symptoms have a tendency to appear since birth. However, it is common for the disease to be identified only several years after the first symptoms, due to a crisis of more intense symptoms after an infection, the use of some medication or even due to overexposure to the sun.
Although lupus has no cure, there are some treatments, indicated by the rheumatologist, that help to relieve symptoms and improve the person’s quality of life, and the use of anti-inflammatory, corticosteroid or immunosuppressive drugs may be indicated.
Lupus can affect any organ or part of the body, so symptoms can vary widely from person to person. Still, some of the most common symptoms include:
- Fever above 37.5ºC;
- Red spots on the skin, especially on the face and other places exposed to the sun;
- Muscle pain and stiffness;
- Joint pain and swelling;
- Loss of hair;
- Sensitivity to light;
- Excessive tiredness.
These symptoms usually appear in seizures, that is, they appear intensely for a few days or weeks and then disappear again, but there are also cases where the symptoms always remain constant.
Depending on the case, the symptoms of lupus may end up being similar to other more common problems, such as diabetes and arthritis, so it is possible that the diagnosis will take longer, as the doctor needs to eliminate other causes.
Possible causes of lupus
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that is usually caused by genetic mutations that occur during the development of the fetus in the womb and is therefore not a contagious disease that can be transmitted.
However, it is possible to be born without any symptoms and only develop symptoms during adulthood, due to factors that can stimulate the appearance of these symptoms such as prolonged exposure to the sun, viral infections or the use of some medications.
In addition, some people are also more likely to show the first symptoms of lupus during stages of life when major hormonal changes occur, such as during puberty, pregnancy or menopause.
Types of lupus
Lupus can be classified into 4 main types according to the characteristics of the lesions, symptoms and possible cause, the most common type being systemic lupus erythematosus. The main types of lupus are:
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), in which there is inflammation in various parts and organs of the body, especially skin, joints, heart, kidneys and lungs, causing different symptoms according to the affected sites;
- Discoid or cutaneous lupus, in which only lesions on the skin are identified, not reaching other organs. However, some patients with discoid lupus may develop the disease into systemic lupus over time;
- Drug-induced lupus, which is more common in men and happens due to temporary inflammation caused by the prolonged use of certain medications, such as hydralazine, procainamide and isoniazid. Symptoms usually disappear within a few months of stopping the medication;
- Neonatal lupus, which is one of the rarest types of lupus, but it can happen in babies born to women with lupus.
It is important that the type of lupus is identified by the rheumatologist or dermatologist so that the most appropriate treatment can be started.
The diagnosis of the type of lupus is made by the doctor initially through the evaluation of the presented signs and symptoms, health history of the person and the family, in addition to urine and blood tests, mainly the ANA test. In some cases, the doctor may also recommend performing imaging tests to check for organ damage.
How the treatment is done
The treatment for lupus should be indicated by the doctor according to the type of the disease, symptoms presented and the frequency with which they happen. Although there is no treatment capable of curing lupus, the doctor may recommend the use of some remedies that help to relieve symptoms during periods of crisis, and may be recommended:
- Anti-inflammatory remedies, like Naproxen or Ibuprofen: are used mainly when lupus causes symptoms such as pain, swelling or fever;
- Antimalarial remedies, such as Chloroquine: help to prevent the development of lupus symptoms in some cases;
- Corticosteroid remedies, such as Prednisone or Betamethasone: reduce inflammation of Organs affected organs;
- Immunosuppressive remedies: such as Azathioprine or Methotrexate, to decrease the action of the immune system and relieve symptoms. However, this type of medication has serious side effects such as recurrent infections and an increased risk of cancer and, therefore, should only be used in the most severe cases.
In addition, it is still important to always take some precautions to relieve symptoms, such as applying sunscreen daily and having healthy lifestyle habits.
It is also important that the person adopts an anti-inflammatory diet, because in this way it is possible to prevent the onset of symptoms and even reduce their intensity. For this, it is recommended to increase the consumption of foods rich in antioxidants and omega-3, such as salmon, tuna, green tea, garlic, onion, broccoli, avocado and tomato, for example.