Lupus is a disease of the immune system, where the cells in the immune system attack healthy body tissue, including the skin and major organs (heart, kidneys, liver, etc). Lupus is a lifelong disease and is incurable, however, medication can help manage the illness and make it less severe on the body.
Joint pain in the body is the most common symptom of Lupus. Typically, joint pain will occur on both sides of the body at the same time, like both wrists, both ankles, elbows, hands, or knees. The joint pain isn’t permanent as far as damage, and the joints may feel warm to the touch and look swollen in addition to the pain.
Lupus also will show up in what is called the “butterfly rash”- a red and scaly rash that goes across both cheeks and down the nose (in the shape of a butterfly). This is usually the first tell-tale sign of Lupus. Lupus rashes usually show up on the upper part of the body, in the form of sun sensitivity, red rashes from the shoulders on up, or a deep purple rash on the arms. Another Lupus sign is mouth sores, usually along with the butterfly rash. This is the cells in the immune system attacking the body.
Lupus attacks the fingernails as well, making them brittle, weak, and even making them fall off. Even more noticeable is the base of the nails and skin surrounding the nails- these areas will look red, swollen, puffy and scaly, like they had been slammed in a door. Lupus will usually affect the fingernails on both hands, and affect all the nails.
Unfortunately, sometimes Lupus shows no real symptoms other than fever and tiredness and weakness. Fever that persists and fatigue that interferes with daily work and activity could be a sign of Lupus. In addition to these lesser symptoms, sensitivity to light can also occur- a rash can form on the body within just a few hours of being in the sun. If you notice light sensitivity in addition to being tired or have a fever for weeks without reason, Lupus may be to blame.
Lupus symptoms tend to come and go, in flareups. These flareups include the joint pain, fever, fatigue, light sensitivity, rashes, and even hair loss. The flareups last temporarily, then fade, and the body goes back to normal, including new hair growth. Hair loss usually occurs in patches on the scalp and other areas.
Lupus mimicks other diseases a lot, so it’s hard to diagnose. Usually, blood tests along with tissue biopsies to test the kidney function and tissue health are needed to diagnose Lupus. Lupus affects mostly women, with 90% of people affected being female, although anyone can suffer from Lupus. African Americans, Asians, and Latinos are also most at risk. So are individuals between ages 15-45, and those with family members with Lupus.
Treatment for Lupus is lifelong and meant to suppress the disease from progressing and causing more damage to the body’s healthy tissue and organs. Corticosteroids are often used to treat rashes, and antibiotics are prescribed to suppress the immune system to keep Lupus at bay. Depending on the severity of the Lupus diagnosis (there are several types of Lupus, ranging in severity) each individual’s treatment varies.
Lupus outbreaks can be controlled by not smoking, getting plenty of rest (12 hours or more), eating well, staying out of the sun or at least seeking protection while in the sun, and managing stress. While Lupus cannot be cured, it can be managed with both lifestyle changes and medications. Managed properly, someone with Lupus should be able to live a full and active life, and women with Lupus can even get pregnant most of the time. Lupus left undiagnosed or untreated can be fatal, as as it progresses it wears down the heart, kidneys, and other major organs. It’s important to treat Lupus symptoms so the disease doesn’t progress as quickly.