By Jeanene Smith, M.D., Kelsey-Seybold Clinic
How much do you know about a disease called lupus? I’s not a well-understood condition. Normally, the immune system protects the body from infection. However, with lupus, the immune system inappropriately attacks tissues in various parts of the body, leading to tissue damage and illness. African-American women are especially at risk for lupus.
Tricky to diagnose
Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because many of the signs and symptoms are similar to other diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lymphoproliferative disorders (a disease in which cells of the lymphatic system grow excessively), and chronic infections like HIV, hepatitis, and Lyme disease.
Black women are three times more likely to develop lupus than any other race. This disease often affects females ages 15-44, but the onset for black women can occur earlier. Having lupus increases the risk of cardiovascular events, like heart attacks, strokes, and transient ischemic attacks (TIA), often called mini-strokes. Many patients with active lupus complain of fever, weight loss, and tiredness and may develop specific problems when the immune system attacks a particular organ(s) or area(s) in the body.
Specific areas of the body that may be affected during the course of lupus include the skin, joints, and kidneys. The blood may also be affected, resulting in low red blood cell count (anemia), low white blood cell count, and low platelet count. Those with lupus may experience joint pain, extreme fatigue, hair loss, a facial rash, chest pain, dry eyes, difficulty breathing, headaches, confusion, and memory loss, among other symptoms.
Lupus diagnosis criteria
The American College of Rheumatology has specific classification criteria to help physicians in making a diagnosis of lupus. These criteria include:
- A rash shaped like a butterfly across the bridge of the nose and cheeks.
- A raised rash on the head, arms, chest, or back.
- Sunlight sensitivity.
- Mouth ulcers.
- Inflammation of the joints.
- Heart or lung involvement.
- Kidney problems.
- Seizures or other neurological problems.
- Positive antibody tests.
- Changes in normal blood values.
No two cases are alike
Lupus treatment is highly individualized, meaning there’s no one specific course of treatment, which may include any of the following:
- Steroids, both topical and systemic, to help reduce inflammation.
- Immunosuppresive medications.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Home remedies such as applying vitamin E oil, olive oil, and cod oil to soothe skin and help reduce irritation and pain.
Dr. Smith is a board-certified Internal Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s The Woodlands Clinic.
To schedule an appointment, call 713-442-0000.