Lupus – Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Diagnosis

Lupus – Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Diagnosis

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), commonly known as lupus, is a chronic autoimmune condition. Here, the body’s immune system, which is supposed to fight infections, begins attacking healthy tissues and organs. This causes pain and inflammation. One may also experience symptoms like skin sensitivity, joint pains, rashes, and issues with internal organs like the kidneys, heart, and lungs. The condition does not have a cure, however, treatment options can help one manage its symptoms.

Here are a few symptoms one should recognize:

Most people with lupus experience fatigue, which can worsen with muscle and joint pain. Many may experience stiffness and swelling in the neck, thigh, and arms. While getting adequate sleep can relieve general exhaustion, when fatigue is accompanied by some sort of pain and discomfort, one should consult a doctor.

Skin rashes
The most common and prominent symptom of this disease is a butterfly-shaped rash on both cheeks and the nose bridge. Around 30% of people affected by lupus experience this symptom. The rash may appear suddenly before a flare-up or right after excessive sun exposure. For some, the condition also causes hives and non-itchy lesions all over the body. Some may notice discoloration in their toes or fingers.

Hair loss
Hair loss and thinning hair are early signs of lupus. Here, the skin on the scalp gets inflamed making hair fall out. The hair may start thinning gradually or could even fall in clumps. Strands also become brittle and ragged when dealing with this condition.

Low-grade fever
A low-grade fever for no discernible reason is another early symptom of lupus. The body temperature may linger between 98.5 and 101 degrees Fahrenheit, and this might be a persistent symptom.

Swelling and pain in joints
People with lupus might experience stiffness, pain, and swelling in the joints, especially in the morning. It may begin as a mild pain that later intensifies. The pain can be managed using remedies or prescription options.

Digestive issues
Lupus can cause gastrointestinal inflammation and problems like acid reflux or heartburn. These symptoms can be managed by antacids, avoiding caffeine, not lying down immediately after a meal, and eating in smaller quantities.

Dryness in the eyes and mouth
Lupus can make the eyes and mouth dry. When affected by the disease, the tear and saliva glands malfunction, and lymphocytes accumulate in the glands.

Kidney problems
Nephritis is a type of kidney inflammation common in people with lupus. The inflammation makes it hard for the kidneys to filter toxins from the blood. Symptoms of nephritis include swollen legs and feet, high blood pressure, dark-colored urine, blood in urine, pain in the sides, and a frequent urge to urinate.

Thyroid issues
In people with lupus, the immune cells can attack the thyroid gland and prevent it from functioning properly. As this gland controls metabolism, any kind of malfunctioning can affect vital organs like the liver, heart, kidneys, and brain.

Lung inflammation
Inflammation of the lungs is another symptom of lupus that one should not ignore. The inflammation can make the blood vessels in the lungs can swell up. This can cause chest pain when one tries to breathe. Over time, the condition can weaken the diaphragm and reduce lung size.

One should consult a doctor immediately if they observe one or more of these early signs of lupus.

Causes and risk factors
The exact cause of lupus is not yet known, and research to understand the triggers is underway. However, here are a few possible risk factors for the condition:

Family history of the condition: A family history of lupus could increase the risk of developing the condition. If one has a family member with the condition, they should consider getting examined for lupus on noticing early signs.

Hormonal imbalance: Women are more likely to develop lupus than men, as 9 out of 10 people with the condition are women. This may be partly because of the hormone called estrogen. The condition is usually observed in women of reproductive age, i.e., between 15 to 45 years old, when the estrogen levels in the body are high.

Environment and lifestyle-related factors: Various environmental factors could also increase the risk of developing lupus. Stress, viruses one has been exposed to, the treatment options they use, and even the amount of sunlight one gets could influence the risk of being affected by lupus.

Systemic lupus erythematosus is diagnosed through a combination of methods. Detecting the disease is challenging as its symptoms often mimic those of other illnesses, so a single test cannot help doctors diagnose the condition. The illness is confirmed by conducting several tests and an examination of the patient’s medical and family history. Some of the diagnostic tests for lupus include a complete blood count, urine analysis, antinuclear antibody test, liver and kidney assessment, and erythrocyte sedimentation rate. It is important to see a rheumatologist to get a precise systemic lupus erythematosus diagnosis.

The autoimmune condition does not have a cure. However, its symptoms can be managed with timely and appropriate treatments and changes in meals and lifestyle. Based on the results of lab tests, X-rays, and physical examinations, the doctor will recommend a treatment plan. Some of the options usually recommended are anti-inflammatory prescriptions and those that limit immune system activity.

Several symptoms of lupus can be managed with the right treatment methods and by making lifestyle changes to prevent frequent flare-ups and reduce the severity of the condition. Some of the lifestyle changes that help in disease management are avoiding excessive sun exposure, incorporating low-impact exercises into the daily routine, getting adequate sleep, eating nutritious foods, and managing stress. Such simple changes, combined with treatment, can help one manage the disease and carry out daily activities.