What is lupus?
Lupus is an incurable autoimmune disorder characterized
by flare-ups of disease activity of unpredictable duration, generally
followed by symptom-free periods. Its wide variety of symptoms range from
mild to life threatening, and often mimic other diseases. Because of this,
lupus is referred to as "The Great Impostor"
is an autoimmune disorder?
attack "self." The immune system in a person who has lupus
produces too many antibodies. Some of these antibodies become auto-reactive
(attack self) and inflame and damage tissues and organs. Current thinking
is that auto-immune disorders result from faulty communication between
B cells and T cells. (B cells normally produce antibodies or stop
producing them on direction from T cells). It is thought that in lupus,
this communication goes awry and B cells may not get the message from
T cells to stop making antibodies, or the message B cells do receive
the ages of 20 and 40 most often get lupus; in fact, nine times more
women than men get it. Children also get lupus, but much less frequently.
The number of lupus patients worldwide is not well documented. The
disease may affect as many as 1 in 1000 people or be more prevalent.
The cause or
causes have not been isolated, but scientists throughout the world
are studying the immune system. Much attention now is on immunoregulation,
the switch-like mechanism that turns the immune response on and off.
(See "What is an autoimmune disorder" above.)
is being done?
Researchers are investigating hormonal, genetic, viral, and environmental
causes. Many are focusing on the immune system's communication process,
and in particular a method to determine which B cells develop the
ability to attack self. Lupus Canada is undertaking the task of collecting
and posting to their web site the research that is taking place worldwide.
This project will begin in November 2000. Clinical Management: Physicians
today have a better understanding of lupus, more reliable diagnostic
tests, and a greater variety of treatments to offer patients. Volunteer
Sector: Proactive men and women who have lupus, or who have an interest
in lupus, work together within self-help organizations across Canada
and beyond to promote awareness, educate patients, lobby for improvements,
and raise funds for research.
are the symptoms of lupus?
Lupus can inflame
and damage any organ or system
Symptoms may include one or more of the following:
lack of energy
low grade or spiking fevers
loss of appetite
weight loss or weight gain
anemia or low white blood count
rashes - typically on the bridge of the nose and across the cheeks
in a butterfly shape. (Discoverers of lupus thought that the rash
resembled the mask-like configuration on the face of a wolf, and named
the disease LUPUS which means WOLF, in Latin).
hair loss (alopecia)
ulcers in the roof of the mouth;
allergy to sun (exposure may bring on any of the variety of sypmtoms
associated with lupus)
red, swollen, painful joints or muscles
convulsions; psychosis; nerve abnormalities that cause strange sensations
or alter muscular ability
nephritis (kidney problems)
phlebitis (inflammation of the blood vessels)
pleurisy; pericarditis (inflammation of the membraneous sac surrounding
the heart) and/or peritonitis [taken together this type of inflammation
is known as polyserositis].
In 1982, the American Rheumatism Association published a revised set
of criteria to aid physicians in making the diagnosis of Lupus [stating
that] "A physician observing 4 of the 11 criteria below...should
be suspicious to the possibility of Lupus [as] the underlying disorder."
The 11 criteria
positive ANA test result
Physicians were cautioned, however, "to be careful in utilizing
criteria for an individual case, as other diseases could also conform
to the criteria". The diagnosis of Lupus today is usually based
on these findings:
evidence of a multi-system disease (more than one organ involved);
the presence of antibodies;
the exclusion of other diseases and disorders which can mimic the
features of Lupus.
"No single set of symptoms are uniformly specific to Lupus and
no laboratory test can prove Lupus conclusively; ...diagnosis is usually
made after careful review of medical history, and analysis of blood
results and lab tests, plus some specialized tests related to immune
system status. Despite advances in medical education and technology
it is still not uncommon for Lupus to be incorrectly diagnosed or
require a lengthy period of time to be diagnosed, mainly because the
symptoms vary so widely, come and go frequently, and because the disease
mimics so many other disorders."
Following an initial assessment for symptoms (listed above), your
doctor will order blood tests to try and rule out, or confirm, that
you have systemic involvement. Systemic Lupus Erythematous (SLE) can
affect multiple systems and organs, including the skin, whereas Discoid
Lupus, a milder form, primarily affects the skin, although fatigue,
hair loss, joint pain, or other symptoms may be present as well. Sufferers
of Discoid Lupus, however, may never develop systemic involvement.
for Diagnosing Lupus include
The Antinuclear antibody test (ANA). As high as 99% all lupus patients
have a positive antinuclear antibody test. BUT a positive ANA test,
in the absence of clincial findings, does not confirm the diagnosis
of lupus. A positive ANA means that antinuclear antibodies are in
your blood. If you have a positive ANA and symptoms, your doctor will
want to find out if you have DNA antibodies in your blood.
The DNA antibody
test is more specific for a diagnosis of lupus, but these antibodies
are not present in all patients with lupus. Your doctor may also order
blood tests which will show the presence of more specific antigens
in the RNA family.The RNA test is positive for one or more of this
familiy of antigens in about 85% of SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus)
"An important fact to remember concerng the treatment for Lupus
is that the diagnosis does not indicate the particular therapy to
be used. In the absence of a cure, present-day treatment of Lupus
is still primarily tailored to symptomatic relief and not to the diagnosis."
(Excerpts from Diagnosis Can Be Difficult -- a selection from the
Lupus Foundation of America Newsletter Article Library, distributed
in Canada by Lupus Canada).
What happens after you are diagnosed with Lupus?
Your doctor will order routine, regular blood tests to keep track
of how you are doing...tests such as: CBC - blood work to monitor
activity (this will influence medication decisions);
Urinalysis - urine sample to find out how your kidneys are functioning;
Other tests - to check the variety of symptoms that you may have.
you can do for yourself
Learn as much as you can about Lupus and the way it affects you. Join
a local Lupus organization to get current information and talk with
others who have Lupus and who can help you and your family and friends
understand your illness. People who have Lupus may offer the advice:
"be kind to yourself...get adequate rest (especially during flare-up
periods); wear a sunscreen when you go out of doors; avoid highly
stressful situations if possible; take your medications as prescribed,
and see your doctor regularly."