Lupus

What is lupus?

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes your body’s immune system to attack its own tissues. The inflammation that occurs results in swelling, pain and other symptoms. As a result, the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels, the nervous system and almost any other organ can be affected. Lupus can vary in severity; from mild to very severe. A person may experience active periods (commonly known as flares or flare-ups) and times where there is decreased activity or even inactivity (remission). 

Lupus affects approximately one in every 2,000 Canadians. Men, women and children can all be diagnosed with Lupus but it is far more common in women (90% of persons with Lupus are women). Lupus tends to occur most often between the ages of 15 and 45, but can be experienced by people at any age.

What causes Lupus?

It is unknown specifically what causes Lupus; however, here are a number of factors which researchers believe may contribute to the disease. These include genetics, hormones, certain types of antibiotics and other medications, prolonged and severe stress, viruses, and sun exposure.

For additional information please visit: https://arthritis.ca/about-arthritis/arthritis-types-(a-z)/types/systemic-lupus-erythematosus

What are the symptoms of Lupus?

A woman displaying the “Butterfly” shaped Malar Rash common to lupus.

Symptoms experienced by patients vary from one person  to another and can affect different areas of the body making lupus often difficult to diagnose. 

Symptoms can include:

  • Intermittent joint pains or inflammation of joints
  • Red rashes across nose and cheeks
  • Bumps of patches of skin
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Hair loss
  • Hands become red and swell around the nails, and can have purplish spots due to bleeding in the skin.
  • Rashes from exposure to the sun
  • Blue fingers and toes from exposure to the cold
  • Pain with deep breaths 
  • Abnormalities in lung functions
  • Blockage of arteries in the lungs due to blood clots 
  • Chest pains
  • Enlargement of lymph nodes and spleen
  • Headaches, strokes, seizures, nerve damage
  • Kidney failure
  • Nausea , diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort 
  • Pregnant women are at a higher risk of miscarriage and stillbirth

It is recommended that you speak with your physician if you experience 3 or more symptoms.  

There is not a single test for lupus to diagnose Lupus. Doctors can make a diagnosis by ordering a number of  blood tests and assessing a number of other factors including the physical symptoms and sometimes family history

How can I prevent and manage lupus going forward?

There are no cures at the moment so it is important to notice when flare ups happen so that precautions can be taken to minimize the amount of flare ups in the future. It is highly recommended to get the flu shot as a person diagnosed with lupus can develop life threatening diseases if they catch the flu.

How is Lupus treated?

Lupus is usually diagnosed and treated by a rheumatologist. 

Although there is no cure for Lupus, there are a number of effective treatment options available that help control symptoms. 

There are five major groups of medications which are used to treat lupus. These are:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (for example Advil® or Motrin IB®), naproxen (or Naprosyn®), dicloflenac (or Voltaren® and Arthrotec®)
  • Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil®)
  • Methotrexate
  • Corticosteroids, such as prednisone
  • Immunosuppressive medications, such as cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan®, Procytox ®) and azathioprine (Imuran®), and mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept®)

The goal of treatment is to control inflammation and minimize disease activity so that no long-term organ damage occurs. Symptoms can often be controlled using one or a combination of the first four groups of drugs listed above. The severity of your condition will determine which medications your doctor will prescribe.  

It’s important to keep a journal or diary of your symptoms and the severity. It is common for your doctor to make adjustments in doses or changes to effectively manage the symptoms. 

In addition to pharmacologic treatment, its very important that you maintain a healthy lifestyle. Healthy diet/good nutrition and some level of exercise can play a role in symptom management. Reducing stress and anxiety is also important. 

Where can I go for additional information and support? 

Lupus Canada has more detailed information and resources to support you. Visit their website at www.lupuscanada.org

There are provincial organizations across Canada. To find a support group near you: https://www.lupuscanada.org/provincial-organizations/

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Content credited to:
Lupus Canada
Arthritis Consumer Experts
The Arthritis Society 

Disclaimer: All information is provided for your general knowledge only, and is not a substitute for the advice from, and care by health professionals. Please consult your health care professional regarding details of symptoms, diagnosis and medication or treatment. Any information or links do not imply endorsement by the Canadian Spondylitis Association.