What is Lupus

What is Lupus?

While at least 1.5 million people in the United States have Lupus, it is still a poorly understood condition. We do know that it is a chronic autoimmune disease. We also know that it can impact most areas of your body, but we have a very poor understanding about what Lupus is, although many researchers out there are making huge strides towards determining what the condition entails, as well as the likely root causes of Lupus.

Understanding Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune condition. As you may well know, your immune system is what your body relies on to help fight off disease and infection in your body. In most people, it does a decent job. However, in those 50 million people in the US suffering from an autoimmune disease, it does not work quite as well.

An autoimmune condition is a problem in the immune system. The problems differ from condition to condition. In some cases, the autoimmune disease may cause a weakening in the immune system. In the case of Lupus, the condition causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue in the body. Basically, in Lupus sufferers, the immune system believes that the healthy tissue is a threat to the body and needs to be eradicated. As you can imagine, it is quite painful and very uncomfortable. The tissues in the body impacted by Lupus do differ from person to person. One may suffer from the condition more than another.

Lupus can be a difficult condition to define. In some people, the symptoms of Lupus are minor. In fact, some individuals are able to go about their day to day life without realizing that they have the condition. It is believed that there may be thousands of people currently in the US who do not realize that they have Lupus. In others, the symptoms may be life threatening. In all cases, Lupus is still considered to be a chronic condition. This means that it may rear its head at any given moment. It is difficult to cure, even in the most minor of cases. Most people can do nothing more than keep their symptoms under control. For our guide to available Lupus treatments visit here. You may find it helpful if you or someone you know, is suffering from this condition and wants to better understand all of the treatment options available.  

For many individuals suffering from Lupus, they may not experience symptoms every single day. There may be days, weeks, or even months between flare-ups. The length of these flare-ups will differ from person to person. Some people will deal with them for a day or so, others may deal with them for weeks at a time. It is something which can change quite a lot. This is why it is important to try and find a treatment that effectively keeps your symptoms under control as much as possible.

What does Lupus look like?

This is something that can be difficult establish because the symptoms of Lupus are often tied to other conditions too. If you have one of the symptoms that we have in this list found below, there is a chance that you may have Lupus, but you also may not.  If you do suffer from a few of these symptoms, or even just one of the more serious symptoms, then it may be worth talking to a doctor or rheumatologist to help you diagnose your condition.

The symptoms of Lupus will, of course, vary from person to person. It will all be dependent on the severity of your condition and how the immune system reacts in your body.

Skin Rash or Lesions

This is one of the more visual indicators of Lupus. The condition can cause rashes all over your body. The most common of these rashes, and the one which appears in roughly 50% of people suffering from the condition, is known as the ‘Butterfly Rash’. This occurs on the cheeks and across the bridge of the nose. It looks like a butterfly hence the name. If you have this rash, particularly after you have been exposed to sunlight or if it occurs suddenly, then there is a chance that you have Lupus. As mentioned previously, this condition can cause rashes to occur elsewhere on your body, but this is one of the bigger ‘telltale’ signs of it.

The condition can also cause lesions on your body. These will usually not be itchy at all. You may suffer from hives due to Lupus, but this is exceedingly rare.

Hair Loss

Another of the visual signs of Lupus is hair loss. In fact, for many people, their hair starting to thin out may be one of the first visual indicators that they get which says that something is wrong. Of course, not all hair loss, in fact very little hair loss, is Lupus-related, there may be other factors at play here.

All hair on your body can be impacted by the Lupus. While the hair on the top of your head will be the first to start thinning out, you may find that the condition also impacts beards, eyebrows, and eyelashes.

Fatigue

90% of Lupus sufferers report that they suffer from fatigue, particularly during a flare-up. Those suffering from Lupus may need to take regular naps or find other ways in which they can keep their energy levels up. In the most extreme cases, Lupus sufferers may be impacted to the point where they cannot function in their day to day lives. 

Fever

Since Lupus impacts your immune system, it may not be working properly all of the time. One of the first signs that somebody is going to go through a flare-up is if they are suffering from a very mild fever.  Though it may not cause you that much discomfort, in can be an indication you will be dealing with a flare-up shortly afterwards.

Chest pain

Lupus can cause your lungs to become inflamed, as well as the rest of your pulmonary system. This can make breathing quite painful. This can be exceedingly dangerous for some people. If you are suffering from regular chest pain when you breathe, then you should share this information with your doctor.

Joint Pain and Swollen Joints

Lupus can cause inflammation in the joints, very similar to arthritis, although it is unlikely to cause degrading in the joints, which means that the pain is going to disappear when your flare-up has finished.

Most joint pain can be treated using standard painkillers, although some people may suffer from stiffness or swelling which can cause all manner of problems. Eating anti-inflammatory foods can be really helpful in assisting with joint pain and inflammation.

Other symptoms

There are also other symptoms that may also indicate that you have Lupus. It is a condition which can cause almost any or every organ in your body to become inflamed. Which organs are effected will vary and it does differ from flare-up to flare-up. You may experience:

  • Kidney inflammation. This is known as nephritis and it may eventually impact most Lupus sufferers. When this occurs, the kidneys will not be able to filter toxins from your body as effectively as they could in the past. This can cause swelling in the lower extremities of your body, high blood pressure, pain in the side of your body, and dark-colored urine. In some people, this can be fatal and your doctor will want to watch your condition to make sure that nothing is going seriously wrong.

  • Problems with your gastrointestinal system. This can cause heartburn, indigestion etc. In most cases, these symptoms can easily be treated at home and for most individuals do not end up being that severe.

  • Thyroid problems: this can impact your body’s metabolism. This means you may suffer from extreme weight gain or weight loss. You may also notice dry skin and hair. Other people may have mood swings.

      Other symptoms can include: 

  • Dry mouth and dry eyes.

  • Dry vagina, in the case of women.

  • Depression

  • Seizures

When diagnosing Lupus it is important to not jump to the conclusion that you have Lupus without talking to your doctor or a rheumatologist first.

What Causes Lupus?

It is important to note that it is not definitively known what causes Lupus. There is some evidence which seems to suggest that it is a genetic condition. If you have a close family member that suffers from Lupus, statistically it is more likely that you are going to suffer from the condition too.  There are several genetic mutations which can make it more likely that you suffer from the condition. However, it is important to note that the condition is not just genetically inherited. You may have the condition and nobody in your immediate family has it.

When looking at what causes Lupus it is more helpful to ask what causes the Lupus to flare-up. This means an ‘attack of Lupus’.  Many individuals who have the mutated gene that increases the risk of Lupus, may never suffer from any of the symptoms mentioned above. These are known as your triggers and everyone will have their own ‘triggers’. The most common triggers are as follows:

  • An infection or condition. When you are suffering from an infection or a condition which causes your immune system to spring into action, then the chance of your Lupus flaring up will be increased drastically. This is because the immune system will be highly active. It will also be indiscriminately targeting tissue in your body.

  • Exposure to the sun.

  • If you are taking certain drugs which make you more sensitive to the sun, known as sulfa drugs, then you are more likely to be dealing with Lupus flare-ups.

  • Certain antibiotic drugs

  • Exhaustion

  • If you are suffering from stress, then your immune system is going to be thrown into disarray. This, again, will increase the chances of something going wrong. It does not just have to be emotional stress either. Physical stress to the body, including injury, surgery, and pregnancy, can cause your symptoms to flare-up.

  • Hormonal changes, particularly in women during menopause or puberty.

In addition to this, certain habits have been linked to flare-ups of lupus. For example, many medical practitioners out there will tell you that you should not be smoking at all if you are a Lupus sufferer. Remember, you will be ingesting a number of chemicals which your body really does not want in there. This will cause your immune system to attack them which, of course, leads to the healthy tissue being attacked at the same time.

As this is an inflammatory condition, there is also a strong indication that foods which can cause inflammation in the body can severely increase the risk of suffering from a Lupus flare-up. These are some of what are believed to be, the biggest food contributors to flare-ups:

  • Sugar

  • Vegetable oil

  • Fried foods

  • Refined flour ( i.e. processed bread, pizza, cakes etc.)

  • Dairy products

  • Saturated fats. This all comes down to the boost of bad cholesterol in your body. This can lead to severe flare-ups.

  • Non-organic meats. This is due to the fact that many of the meats that you consume are from animals which have been loaded up with antibiotics and fed an unnatural diet. If you cook these meats at high temperatures then something known as ‘carcinogens’ will be produced. These cause inflammation.

  • Gluten

  • Alcohol

Many people who eat a healthy diet even though they have the gene for Lupus may never actually end up suffering from the condition, or at least will never do to the point where it poses a real threat to their day to day lives. They may not even notice that the condition occurs.

Remember, research is constantly going on to help determine what causes Lupus and how it can be dealt with. However, current theories highlight what has been covered on this page. We will continue to update this information should new theories be proposed.