(BlackDoctor.org) — Lupus erythmatosus is a chronic autoimmune disorder of the connective tissue of the body, in which inflammation occurs in various systems and organs including the skin, blood cells, joints, heart, lungs and kidneys.
In autoimmune diseases, the immune system loses its ability to recognize the body’s own tissues and cells as belonging to the body. Thus, the immune system, which normally protects the body from outside invaders like bacteria or viruses, begins to attack the body’s own tissues and organs as if they were foreign substances in need of destruction.
Although there are several forms of lupus, the most common form is known as Systemic Lupus Erythmatosus (SLE). SLE effects women nine times more often than men, and usually strikes between the ages of 15 and 50, and is more common in women of non-European heritage.
There is no known cure for lupus, although immune-suppressants and other drugs can be used to control its symptoms and decrease the frequency and severity of “flares”, wherein symptoms are periodically exacerbated. Individuals living with lupus can also periodically have symptom-free periods of remission.
Lupus may be caused by inherited genetic traits, but may also be caused by environmental factors. The use of certain medications can also cause drug-induced lupus.
Symptoms and Complications of Lupus
The symptoms of lupus vary depending on which system or organ of the body is being affected. Unfortunately, lupus is often misdiagnosed since it can imitate other illnesses and disease processes, so those people who have lupus may spend years seeking an accurate diagnosis.
Some common complaints are chronic fatigue, joint pain, myalgias (muscle pain), and fever. Some patients also experience changes in their cognitive abilities over time.
Dermatological: The skin is the largest organ of elimination in the human body, and more than 30% of individuals living with lupus experience dermatological symptoms which manifest as red, scaly patches on various parts of the body, as well as alopecia (hair loss), and ulcers of the mouth, vagina and nose. Many individuals with lupus will demonstrate the classic “malar rash”, which is a butterfly-shaped rash over the bridge of the nose and cheeks, a symptom which can be seen in other diseases but which occurs in more than 40% of lupus sufferers.
Cardiovascular system: Lupus can commonly affect the heart, blood cells and blood vessels. In terms of the heart, lupus can cause pericarditis (inflammation of the sac around the heart), leading to symptoms of shortness of breath and chest pain. Lupus can also cause inflammation of the heart muscle itself (myocarditis), endocarditis (inflammation of the inner walls of the heart), as well as coronary artery disease. Symptoms can range from mild shortness of breath to heart lesions and complications from congestive heart failure and chest pain.
In terms of blood vessels and blood cells, lupus can cause the development of anemia, white blood cell disorders, and increased clotting (thrombosis) which could lead to a clot breaking loose (embolism) and traveling to the brain and causing a stroke. Anemia, of course, can cause symptoms of fatigue and loss of energy, and white blood cell disorders can lead to higher risk of infection.
Vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels) in patients with lupus can lead to broken blood vessels, seizures, strokes, and other symptoms depending on which organ or tissue is affected.