Lupus is an auto-immune disease and can be devastating for those who experience it. Generally, a normally functioning immune system fights off sickness and infections by attacking the bacteria and unfamiliar things in the body. However, when someone is experiencing an auto-immune disease such as lupus, the immune system begins to attack healthy parts of the body. This can cause a variety of horrible symptoms and even damage internal organs. The cause of lupus is not yet known but is believed to be a combination of a variety of factors including pregnancy, hormones, chemicals, medications, diet and stress. The symptoms experienced depend on the type of lupus being experienced and differ depending on the severity of the lupus. Some of the symptoms that can be experienced include joint pain and swelling, skin rashes, weight loss, loss of appetite, fatigue and weakness.
To truly understand lupus, we must first understand the different types of lupus and lupus-type diseases. An outline of the four commonly known types of lupus can be found below:
This type of lupus is the most commonly experienced and is characterized by periods of “flare ups” of symptoms followed by periods of “remission”. These symptoms can impact the skin, joints, organs and even the brain and can range from mild to severe. People with the mild form of systematic lupus tend to experience symptoms confined to their joints and skin. However those with a severe version of systematic lupus can experience more damaging symptoms including:
- Inflammation of the kidneys (also called lupus nephritis). This inflammation makes it hard for the body to filter waste out of the blood stream and may even lead to the requirement of a kidney transplant or dialysis.
- Hardening of the arteries which can lead to heart attack.
- Inflammation of the nervous system and the brain, which can lead to headaches, fogginess, strokes, memory problems and confusion.
- Inflammation of the blood vessels in the brain. This can cause behavioral or personality changes, seizures and high fevers.
Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus
This type of lupus involves the skin and can involve a number of different rashes and sores on the skin. It can also cause hair loss and changes in the pigment of the skin. The most common rash is scaly, red and raised (called the discoid rash) and seems to form in circle shapes. Another common one, and probably one of the most well known rashes for lupus is called the butterfly rash. This consists of a rash over the person’s cheeks and bridge of their nose. Rashes in cutaneous lupus erythematosus are not limited to these areas though and can occur on a number of spots on the body including the face, neck, mouth, nose and genitals.
Although this is included in the list, it is not necessarily a true type of lupus. It is a very rare condition that is experienced by children of women who have lupus. Neonatal lupus occurs because the anti-bodies of the mother attack the healthy child in the womb. The symptoms include liver problems, rashes and even low blood counts. It can also cause heart defects but with the advances in technology, doctors are now able to scan mothers to see what children are likely to be at risk for these defects and intervene early. The symptoms of neonatal lupus tend to disappear completely a few months after the child is born and thankfully there are normally no ongoing symptoms.
Drug Induced Lupus
This form of lupus is again not a true form of lupus, but is more a lupus-like disease. Drug induced lupus mimics many of the symptoms of systematic lupus but tends not to impact the major organs. Drug induced lupus can be caused by taking certain prescription drugs and there are a number of drugs that can bring this on including hydralazine (high blood pressure medication), procainamide (treatment for irregular heart rhythms) and isoniazid (tuberculosis treatment). It is important to note that not everyone who takes these medications will develop drug induced lupus and luckily the symptoms tend to stop within 6 months of ceasing the medication.
For further information about lupus and the different types of lupus, please see the links below.