As anyone familiar with the TV show “House” can affirm, lupus, or Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is a commonly misdiagnosed autoimmune disease. Patients suffering from lupus develop an overactive and hyper-protective immune system that damages both harmful foreign pathogens and healthy native systems such as cells, tissues, and organs. This autoimmune disease can affect numerous organs, resulting in inflammation, organ failure, and even death.
Causes of Lupus
Currently scientists and doctors are not certain as to the specific causes of lupus, although they are diligently working on a cure. Scientists estimate that 1.5 million people in the U.S. suffer from SLE as a result of a genetic predisposition to develop it from viruses, infections, chemicals, medications, or even ultraviolet light, all of which can help trigger bodily disease progression.
Furthermore, lupus generally affects women more than men, with the average age for disease contraction being between 15 and 50. Statistically speaking, people of Asian, Hispanic, Pacific Island, or African descent have a greater disposition towards the disease.
Diagnoses of Lupus
The danger of lupus can range from light to severe, with patients experiencing moderate symptoms, disabilities, or even death. To prevent organ damage, early diagnosis is crucial. The most frequent early indicators of lupus include joint stiffness, pain, and inflammation, rashes on the nose and cheeks, skin sores, fever, weight fluctuation, memory loss, malaise, chest pain, and depression. A patient must exhibit four out of these 11 symptoms in order to meet the specific criteria necessary to be diagnosed with lupus. These symptoms may appear at once or over a period of weeks or months.
To diagnose a patient with SLE, doctors will perform several blood tests to establish a blood cell and platelet count. An antinuclear antibody test will determine if there is an increased number of antibodies in the patient’s blood, a common indicator of an autoimmune disease.
To assess liver and kidney health, doctors can use either blood tests or urine samples. The lungs require X-ray diagnosis to determine the pervasiveness of effusions—fluid accumulation between the lung and the chest wall—and pericarditis—inflammation of the protective encasement around the heart.
Treatment of Lupus
As an autoimmune disease, systemic lupus erythematosus has no known cure, although drugs are available to alleviate pain and inflammations. Anti-malarials and steroids reduce flare-ups, and other anti-inflammatory medications can help with pain and inflammation. Belimumab, a new drug approved by the FDA specifically designed to treat lupus, is the first new drug in 50 years to make a breakthrough in lupus treatment.
Misdiagnosis of Lupus
Unfortunately, because the warning signs and symptoms of lupus are not disease-specific, misdiagnosis is not uncommon. Many symptoms could be attributed to other diseases such as Lyme disease or chronic fatigue syndrome. If left untreated, lupus can result in anemia, seizures, paralysis, organ failure, and brain inflammation.
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