What Women Should Know About Lupus

What Is Lupus?
Lupus is a chronic disease that can affect the joints, skin, kidneys, lungs, heart, brain, and other organs and tissues. But usually only a few parts of the body get sick with lupus.

Lupus happens when something goes wrong with the immune system of the body. Normally, antibodies in the immune system defend the body from attack by germs and viruses, and keep a person healthy.

In lupus, the antibodies of the immune system become too active and go out of control. Instead of protecting the body, the antibodies attack healthy parts of the body, such as the kidneys, heart, and skin. This attack can cause problems such as kidney failure, heart attack, and stroke, and symptoms such as joint pain, skin rash, and fever.

What Causes Lupus?
Lupus is a mystery. No one knows why some people get it, and others don’t. The disease can start for no obvious reason, or in reaction to something in a person’s life. For example, sometimes lupus starts (or gets worse) after a person is out in the sun a lot. In other people, lupus starts after an infection, or after being under a lot of stress.

What Are the Symptoms of Lupus?
Lupus is different for every person. Some people have a lot of symptoms and complications. Some people have very few problems. Lupus often is hard for doctors to diagnose because it shows up in so many different ways.

Symptoms of Lupus:

  • Red rash on the face, especially across the cheeks and nose
  • Painful or swollen joints
  • Fever
  • Pain in the chest with deep breaths
  • Loss of hair
  • Fingers and toes that get pale or purple from cold or stress
  • Sensitivity to the sun
  • Tiredness
  • Mouth sores (that do not hurt)
  • Depression

These are just a few of the symptoms of lupus. To diagnose lupus, a doctor has to see several of these symptoms as well as certain results of blood or urine tests.

What Does a Person with Lupus Look Like?
Many people with lupus look healthy even though they are actually quite sick.

Are There Different Types of Lupus?
There are three types of lupus:
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (S.L.E.) is the most serious form of lupus. “Systemic” means that the disease is affecting the whole body.

Discoid or “Cutaneous” Lupus Erythematosus affects the skin. It may cause a red or raised rash or other skin changes on the face, scalp, or other parts of body. Usually this kind of lupus does not lead to systemic lupus (S.L.E.).

Drug-Induced Lupus is caused by certain medicines. When the medicine that is causing the reaction is stopped,  the lupus goes away. Medicines that sometimes cause this kind of lupus are:
(1)procainamide, which is used for heart problems,(2) hydralazine drugs, which are used to lower blood pressure, and (3) phenytoin (brand name, Dilantin®), which is used to control seizures.

Does Lupus Run in Families?
Most relatives of people with lupus do not develop the disease.

How Common Is Lupus?
More than 1.5 million Americans have lupus. Many Americans have lupus but do not realize it because they have been given the wrong diagnosis. For reasons that researchers are still figuring out, many of the people who get lupus are young women between the ages of 15 and 44.

Can Boys and Men Get Lupus?
Yes, although lupus is far less common than in females. Of every 10 people with lupus, only 1 is male.

Is Lupus Contagious?
No. A person cannot catch lupus from another person. Lupus is not a form of cancer or HIV/AIDS.

How Is Lupus Treated?
A doctor who treats lupus is called a “rheumatologist.” Because lupus is different in every person, the doctor develops a special plan for each patient.The doctor may prescribe aspirin or other  medicines to lessen pain,  fever, or other symptoms. Stronger prescription medicines are used for lupus that is causing a lot of pain, joint problems, or damage to organs such as the kidneys or heart.

Can a Woman with Lupus Have a Baby?
Many women with lupus have normal pregnancies and have healthy babies. But to be safe, all pregnant women with lupus should be treated by a special doctor called a “high-risk obstetrician.” This doctor should work with the lupus doctor from the moment the woman finds out that she is pregnant. Doing this is important for the health of both the woman and the baby, and in some cases for preventing a miscarriage.

What Should a Woman Do if She Thinks She Has Lupus?
The woman should visit a doctor and ask to be examined and tested for the disease. Many people have lupus for a long time before it is diagnosed. It is important to tell a doctor about all symptoms and health problems. The checklist in this brochure may be helpful for describing symptoms.

Is There a Cure For Lupus?
There is no cure for lupus. But medicines and good lifestyle habits such as staying out of the sun and eating healthy foods often can help in coping with the disease and even lessening fatigue, rashes, joint pain, and other symptoms. With the right medicines and by taking care of themselves, many people with lupus hold a job, have children, and lead normal lives.