Is Lupus a Serious Illness?
Lupus is a chronic (long-term) disease that can cause inflammation and pain in any part of your body. It’s an autoimmune disease, which means that your immune system — the body system that usually fights infections — attacks healthy tissue instead.
There are many different forms of lupus. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common, accounting for around 70% of all cases. In SLE, any part of the body can be affected, though around 80% of cases involve the skin.
Symptoms of SLE include chest pain, shortness of breath, muscle pain, fatigue, fever, hair loss, mouth sores, light sensitivity, anemia and skin rash — most commonly a butterfly-shaped rash that spans the cheeks and bridge of the nose.
Other forms of lupus include cutaneous lupus erythematosus, which is limited to the skin, and drug-induced lupus erythematosus, which can be triggered by certain prescription drugs, including hydralazine and procainamide. Symptoms of drug-induced lupus are similar to those of SLE, though the major organs are rarely affected.
The majority of people with lupus often experience “flare-ups,” in which symptoms worsen for a period of time before improving or disappearing completely.
Complications from lupus depend on what part of the body is affected. Individuals with inflammation in the brain, for example, may experience headaches, memory problems and confusion and are at greater risk for stroke.
Lupus can cause severe kidney damage; around 40% of people with lupus experience kidney complications and it is one of the leading causes of death among people with the condition.
Inflammation of the blood vessels — known as vasculitis — or inflammation of the heart also raises the risk for heart attack and cardiovascular disease for people who have lupus; people with lupus are twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those without the condition.
Individuals with lupus are also more susceptible to infection because the disease and its treatments can weaken the immune system. Respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections, salmonella, herpes, shingles and yeast infections are among the most common.
Certain lifestyle changes can help improve outcomes of lupus. The greatest risk is cardiovascular disease, and for this reason Ghaw recommends eating a heart-healthy diet.
Stopping smoking and losing weight if you’re overweight both lead to much better outcomes. Regular, low-impact exercise also tends to help with joint health as well as weight loss.
People should be in very good contact and communication with their rheumatologist. It’s much easier to prevent complications of lupus rather than treat them afterward. Hopefully, with lifestyle modifications and the right modifications, they can attenuate the risk of these complications in the future.