WHEN your body is working normally, its immune system kills germs and “bad” cells that could turn into cancer. But sometimes, instead of killing only bad cells or germs, something goes wrong and the immune system starts to attack healthy cells.
According to internist Dr Jomo James, that is called an autoimmune response, which is what happens with lupus, and simply means that if you're diagnosed with lupus, your body is attacking itself.
Dr James said people with lupus can experience the following symptoms:
1. Feel tired or weak.
2. Lose or gain weight.
3. Get fevers.
4. Get headaches.
5. Get a rash on their nose and cheeks shaped like a butterfly, especially if they spend time in the sun.
6. Lose some hair.
7. Get chest pain.
8. Have trouble breathing.
9. Bruise easily.
10. Have joint pain and stiffness.
11. Have swelling in the hands, feet, belly, or around the eyes.
12. Have urine that looks brown (tea-coloured) or foamy.
13. Get sores in the mouth.
14. Get cold fingers or toes that turn pale or blue.
Lupus can also make it hard to think clearly, and it can make people feel anxious and sad, partly because the disease attacks the brain, and partly because of the emotional and psychological stress associated with the disease.
With regards to self-management of lupus, Dr James said eating a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables may help, and pointed out that it is very important to stay active, even if you do not feel well.
“If you rest too much, your muscles will get weak and you might feel even worse later. It is also important to be wary of any new prescription drugs not used to treat lupus, as some may cause more harm. In this regard any doctor you visit should know of your lupus diagnosis in order to be safe.”
As it pertains to treatment of the condition, Dr James said there are medicines that can ease lupus symptoms, decrease the autoimmune response, or both. The goal of therapy is to alleviate symptoms, prevent their recurrence, cease the immunological destruction of the body and stop the progression of the disease itself. These medicines include:
1. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (sample brand names: Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (sample brand name: Aleve), which can ease joint pain.
2. Medicines called “hydroxychloroquine” or “chloroquine,” which were originally made to treat malaria but can also help with lupus.
3. Steroids and related medicines, which partly “turn off” the immune system, and can help with many of the problems caused by lupus.
4. Biological agents given by injections to turn off the immune system.
Next week: Risks for women with lupus