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Everything You Need to Know About Lupus

This article will look at the warning signs of lupus, how to maintain a balanced diet and some treatment options, including LUPKYNIS™ (voclosporin). This medication is used in the treatment of certain autoimmune diseases, specifically for adults with active lupus nephritis.

12 Warning Signs of Lupus

1. Butterfly Rash

Forty percent of people diagnosed with lupus develop a red, bumpy rash extending from the nose's bridge and across the cheeks in a butterfly-shaped pattern. While the face rash is the most common, a rash may appear anywhere on the body.

The second most common place for the rash to arise is on the chest. The rash may appear as a single raised, red and disc-shaped lesion or as a widespread skin disturbance with multiple elevated, red lesions.

Exposure to sunlight may make the lesions worse. Sensitive individuals may experience a severe skin reaction with an exacerbation of other symptoms when exposed to sunlight.

2. Sores in the Nose or Mouth

Approximately one out of every three people who are diagnosed with lupus develop ulcers in the mucosal tissues of the mouth or nose. These ulcerations can be very painful.

3. Changes in the Hair and Scalp

Many people who have lupus experience hair loss. There may be a lupus hair loss pattern, it may be over the entire head or just in patches. The loss is usually transient and occurs during flare-ups of other symptoms. The scalp may also be dry and scaly.

Hair loss is common in several conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, which is often confused with lupus. Rheumatoid arthritis hair loss and lupus hair loss may be difficult to tell apart, adding to diagnosis difficulties.

4. Fatigue

Because lupus impacts the entire body, it creates physical and emotional stress. Fatigue is common as a result of the stress the disease places on the body and mind. Tiredness increases during flare-ups of other symptoms. Management of fatigue is an essential part of treatment as fatigue exacerbates cycles of flare-ups.

5. Fever

Many individuals who have lupus run low-grade fevers of 99 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Fever may also be an indication of infection, which people who have lupus are prone to.

6. Frequent Infections

Individuals with lupus are more prone to contract infections and illnesses than the rest of the population. This is due to an altered response of the immune system; drugs used to treat lupus also reduce the ability of the immune system to function well. Infections may be mild or serious. A healthcare provider should be consulted promptly at the first sign of infection.

7. Joint Problems

Pain, stiffness and swelling may occur in the joints. Symptoms are usually widespread, affecting multiple joints throughout the body. Morning stiffness may occur years before any other symptoms of lupus are present. Pain may be present with or without other signs of inflammation. Ninety-five percent of individuals who are diagnosed with lupus develop arthritic changes throughout the disease.

8. Sensitivity of the Fingers and Toes

Sensitivity and pain in the toes or fingers can occur with lupus. Fingers and toes may turn blue or white when exposed to cold temperatures or during periods of stress. This is known as Raynaud's phenomenon.

9. Dry Eyes

The eyes may be red, irritated, sensitive or itchy. This is due to dry eyes, which are common among people who have lupus.

10. Anemia and Abnormal Blood Tests

The presence of abnormal blood test results helps healthcare professionals diagnose lupus. A reduced red blood cell count or anemia, is common. Signs of anemia include paleness, fatigue, shortness of breath and sensitivity to cold temperatures.

The white blood cell count may be low. This increases a person’s susceptibility to infection.

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The erythrocyte sedimentation rate, ESR, may be elevated. However, an elevation of the ESR is not a conclusive test for lupus, as it may be elevated in the presence of a wide range of health problems.

Tests are done to evaluate how the liver and kidneys are functioning as lupus may affect these organs. Abnormal liver or kidney function test results may be present in the presence of lupus.
Antinuclear antibody, ANA, test results may be elevated. This indicates an overly stimulated immune system. If the ANA is elevated, more specific antibody testing is usually indicated.

11. Abnormal Urine Tests

Lupus may cause damage to the kidneys, and so the presence of protein or red blood cells in the urine may indicate lupus. However, the appearance of these substances in urine also indicates many other illnesses.

12. Changes Within the Lungs

People with lupus have an increased likelihood of contracting respiratory infections, including pneumonia. X-rays may show fluid accumulation or inflammation within lung tissues. Chest pain may arise. Pleurisy occurs in 50% of people who have lupus at some time during their illness. Pulmonary function tests are abnormal in nine out of 10 individuals who have lupus.

Maintain a Healthy, Well-balanced Diet

While there is no specific diet that can cure or completely control lupus, a healthy and well-balanced diet can help manage symptoms and promote overall well-being. Here are some general guidelines for a lupus-friendly diet:

Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables: Aim to include a wide range of colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet. They are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that can help reduce inflammation.

  • Include lean proteins: Opt for lean protein sources such as poultry, fish, legumes and tofu. These provide essential nutrients without excessive saturated fats.
  • Choose healthy fats: Incorporate sources of healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. These fats can help reduce inflammation and promote heart health.
  • Emphasize whole grains: Choose whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread and oats over refined grains. Whole grains provide more fiber and nutrients.
  • Limit processed foods and added sugars: Processed foods and foods high in added sugars can contribute to inflammation and may worsen lupus symptoms. Opt for whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible.
  • Monitor salt intake: Limit your intake of sodium, as it can contribute to fluid retention and high blood pressure. Avoid high-sodium processed foods and try using herbs and spices to season your meals instead of salt.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. This is important for overall health and can help manage certain lupus symptoms like dry mouth and dry eyes.
  • Consider omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines, have anti-inflammatory properties. If you're not a fan of fish, you can also consider fish oil supplements.
  • Be mindful of alcohol and caffeine: Excessive alcohol consumption can negatively affect the liver and interact with medications. Caffeine can interfere with sleep and contribute to anxiety and fatigue, so it's best to consume them in moderation.

Treatment Options for Lupus

Treatment for lupus aims to control symptoms, prevent flares and minimize organ damage. Here are some common treatment options:

  • Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, antimalarial drugs and immunosuppressive medications are commonly used to manage symptoms and suppress the overactive immune response.
  • Lifestyle changes: Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, stress management techniques and adequate rest, can help manage symptoms and promote overall well-being.
  • Sun protection: Sun exposure can trigger lupus flares, so it's important to protect your skin from sunlight by using sunscreen, wearing protective clothing and avoiding peak sun hours.
  • Regular check-ups: Frequent monitoring by a healthcare provider, typically a rheumatologist, is crucial to assess disease activity, adjust medication dosages and manage any complications.
  • Supportive care: Managing specific symptoms or complications associated with lupus, such as kidney problems, joint pain or fatigue, may require additional interventions or therapies.

Final Notes

Lupus is a difficult disease to diagnose because it affects so many parts of the body. No one test is used to confirm or rule out a diagnosis of lupus. Diagnostic tests, a comprehensive physical exam and the patient’s history help healthcare professionals formulate a diagnosis of lupus.

It is important to seek diagnosis and treatment promptly when symptoms first appear. These early signs of lupus are similar to the signs of many other connective tissue and autoimmune diseases so it’s important to get them checked out.

Early treatment can slow the progression of the illness but untreated, lupus may result in serious infections, kidney, cardiac or lung disease. Early treatment helps to prevent pain and debility.

It is essential to seek prompt diagnosis and treatment to lead a normal, active, comfortable life.