What if I Have Lupus?

lupus symptoms

[© Nandyphotos | Dreamstime.com] Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that often causes joint pain, facial rash and fatigue. It can occur in anyone, but typically strikes non-Caucasian women ages 15 to 44 years old. Family history also plays a factor.

Living with Lupus
Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that can affect any part of the body, most often the joints, skin and/or organs. It is a disease of flares and remissions and the most common symptoms are joint pain, facial rash and fatigue.

How do I know if I have Lupus?
Lupus can often be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic a variety of other diseases. Generally, a blood test is used to diagnose lupus when a patient has joint pain or a facial rash. The severity and types of symptoms you have determine if you need to see a specialist. Most often, a rheumatologist will treat lupus, but in some cases, it can impact other areas such as the kidneys and nerves, and you will see a different specialist.

Who Gets Lupus?
Anyone can get lupus, but it is much more likely in women than men, especially women ages 15 to 44. Additionally, though all races and ethnic groups can develop lupus, women who are not Caucasian are more prone to be diagnosed. The likelihood of getting lupus also increases with family history. If you have lupus, your children have a higher chance of having it.

Often mistaken for being contagious through sexual contact, this is not a disease that you can “catch” or “give” to someone.

Lupus Flares
Lupus is a disease of flares (when symptoms appear and the disease worsens) that come and go, lasting anywhere from a couple of weeks to many years. Flares can be caused or worsened by:

  • Being out in the sun
  • Stress
  • Sulpha drugs

Treatment
Lupus is a disease that varies in severity. While some people may have very severe cases, others’ cases are so mild it barely affects them. Although there is not a cure for lupus, a variety of medications can treat the disease and control symptoms.

One very common misconception that people have is that if you have lupus you will die from it. The reality is that more people have milder cases of the disease and, while they need to be treated, they can live a pretty normal life.

As with any medical condition, patients should work to stay healthy with these tips:

  • Join a support group
  • Exercise and stay active
  • Maintain a healthy diet (high in omega-3 fatty acids) and weight – this is additionally important because those with lupus have a slightly increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease
  • Get involved in your health care and see your doctor regularly
  • Avoid significant sun exposure and use high SPF sunscreen
  • Get sufficient rest and avoid stress

Drug-induced Lupus
Drug-induced lupus presents with lupus-like symptoms that have been caused by certain drugs. Some prescription drugs associated with this phenomenon are used to treat infection, hypertension, irregular heart rhythms and tuberculosis. Patients typically experience a milder form of lupus with a rash or joint aches. Not everyone who takes these drugs will develop drug-induced lupus and, typically, when you stop taking the medication, the lupus-like symptoms disappear.

Steven Geller, M.D., is an internal medicine physician with Centennial Medical Group in Elkridge. Appointments: 410-730-3399. (Chaim Mond, M.D., is a rheumatologist in Columbia. Appointments: 410-580-1330.)