Lupus, also commonly known as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (or SLE), is a chronic condition that occurs when the immune system cannot tell the difference between intruders and good tissues – then targeting the healthy tissues and organs in the body – i.e. the muscles, joints, lungs, heart, blood vessels, kidneys and skin – which results in inflammation and pain. Currently, an estimated 1 in every 1,000 Canadians between the ages of 15 and 45 suffer from lupus, with more individuals being diagnosed with Lupus each day. Though lupus affects both genders, it is found to be more predominant in women than men.
The list of early signs and symptoms of Lupus is lengthy. Some of the signs and symptoms include: Chronic fatigue, painful muscles and joints, arthritis, a low-grade fever, skin rash, light sensitivity, hair loss, mouth ulcers, loss of appetite, dry eyes, as well as abnormalities of the blood such as having a low platelet count or being anemic. Individuals with lupus are also at an increased risk of developing other health problems such as kidney, lung and heart disease, as well as the development of blood clots. It is important to remember, however, that the symptoms of lupus will vary from person to person.
Lupus can occur as three types of cycles:
1. Acute – Where symptoms happen abruptly and are severe, requiring medical attention – but are usually only short in duration.
2. Chronic – Where symptoms may persist but are not as severe as an acute flare-up.
3. Remission – Where symptoms will disappear for an extended period.
While there are no definitive answers as to what, exactly, causes lupus, research into the condition has discovered that there may be hormonal, environmental and genetic elements to it.
Since there is no specific cause of lupus, family physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary in Vancouver will instead treat the symptoms that are associated with it. Commonly prescribed medications to treat the symptoms of lupus include anti-malarial medications as well as anti-inflammatories such as NSAIDs (Naproxen, Advil, etc.) Immunosuppressant medications may also be prescribed to control severe flare-ups, but it is not recommended that they be taken on a long-term basis as they can come with side effects as well as increase your risk of infection and other health problems down the road.
If you would like more information on lupus, including self-help resources and details on Government-supported programs that are offered to those with lupus, please the Lupus Canada website at lupuscanada.org.