Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes your body’s own immune system to attack healthy tissues and organs. Lupus can cause damage to multiple organ systems, including the liver, skin, joints, blood vessels, and kidneys. While the majority of people affected by lupus are women of childbearing age, the disease has been diagnosed in people of all ages and genders. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, 1.5 million Americans suffer from some form of lupus. 1 in 3 people with lupus suffer from multiple diseases of the immune system. In rare cases, untreated lupus can be life-threatening.

Here’s what you should know about this chronic disease:

The Different Types of Lupus

There are four primary types of lupus:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Cutaneous lupus erythematosus
  • Drug-induced lupus
  • Neonatal lupus

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common form of lupus, accounting for up to 70% of cases. SLE can affect multiple organ systems. Cutaneous lupus erythematosus is characterized by scaly, red skin patches. Discoid lupus is the most common form of CLE. Drug-induced lupus is caused by exposure to certain medications, like hydralazine. Neonatal lupus is a rare condition acquired at birth by infants. It is not considered true lupus, as it is associated with the mother’s antibodies, not the presence of actual lupus in the mother’s body.

What Causes Lupus?

Some people seem to be born with a genetic predisposition to developing lupus. However, environmental factors like sunlight, smoking, medication usage and stress can also trigger lupus. Another factor that seems to increase a person’s likelihood of developing lupus is hormones, particularly the hormone estrogen. In fact, 9 out of 10 people who develop lupus are female. Lupus tends to surface early, with the majority of people developing the disease between the ages of 15 and 45.

What Are the Symptoms of Lupus?

Lupus causes a number of painful symptoms that can interfere with a person’s life. The most common lupus-related symptoms include:

  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Joint swelling
  • Rash (especially a butterfly-shaped rash on the face)
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Fever
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Anemia
  • Swelling in the extremities (edema)

Lupus has a wide range of symptoms because it can affect a large number of organ symptoms. Unfortunately, many of lupus’s symptoms mimic those of other serious diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis. This can make an accurate diagnosis elusive.

What Are Treatments for Lupus?

Lupus can be treated using a range of medications and procedures:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – Some lupus pain can be effectively managed using over-the-counter drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen.
  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) – DMARDs can be used not only to control pain and inflammation associated with lupus, but they may also slow the disease’s progression.
  • Corticosterioids – Corticosteroids like prednisone can help control painful inflammation. However, side effects of corticosteroids can be severe, so low doses and short treatment cycles are generally recommended.
  • Immunosuppressive medications

Talk to your doctor about your lupus symptoms so you can find the treatment that works best for you.

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