It can be overwhelming to receive a medical diagnosis, particularly one like lupus, but learning about your diagnosis and ways to cope with it can make it more manageable.
Lupus is an autoimmune condition where the immune system mistakenly attacks its own healthy body cells, causing damage. In lupus the most commonly affected areas of the body include the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, brain, and tissue lining the lungs. Most patients experience varying times of disease inactivity known as “remissions”, and periods when symptoms are present, called “flares” or “flare-ups”. Flares can range from mild to severe and differ per person and stage of the condition. The cause of lupus isn’t clear, but it does affect more women than men.
Lupus comes in a few different forms. Systemic lupus erythematosus, or “SLE” is the most common form, and the general term “lupus” usually refers to this type. SLE affects many different organ systems in the body, especially the kidneys, joints, and skin. This form of lupus can also affect the cardiovascular system and the nervous system.
Chronic cutaneous lupus erythematosus, or CCLE, is a form of lupus limited only to the skin. It can also be referred to as “discoid lupus erythematosus”. Five percent of people with CCLE may go on to develop SLE later in life.
Two other forms of lupus exist – neonatal lupus erythematosus and childhood lupus.
The content provided in this section of A Healthier You is focused solely on SLE and will refer to it as “lupus”.How Lupus Affects the Body
1. Hair: Hair loss is a common side effect of lupus. It typically occurs near the front of the forehead but can occur in patches as well.
2. Nervous System: Lupus may affect both the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord and optic nerve) as well as the peripheral nervous system (nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord). This can result in memory or thinking issues, headaches, dizziness, and mood changes.
3. Mouth: Sjogren’s syndrome, a condition that causes extreme dryness in the mouth and eyes, is common in those with lupus. Sjogren’s syndrome can cause difficulty swallowing and lead to cavities.
4. Lungs: About half of those with lupus experience lung issues. Inflammation around the lungs may cause chest pain. Others may find they have trouble breathing due to fluid around the lungs, inflammation of the lungs themselves, or the presence of scar tissue on the lungs.1
5. Cardiovascular System: Lupus can greatly affect the heart and blood vessels, making heart disease the most common cause of death in people with lupus. Those with lupus may be more likely to have high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, inflammation around the heart, and blood clots.2
6. Kidneys: Kidney problems are common among those with lupus. Lupus can cause inflammation and scarring of the blood vessels in the kidney or the entire kidney.3 Damage to the kidneys may cause blood and/or protein in the urine, edema (fluid build-up in the body), weight gain, and high blood pressure.
7. Skin: Most people with lupus experience skin issues. These skin problems include rashes and sores that are often made worse by sun exposure. A classic sign of lupus is the “butterfly rash”, a rash that appears on both cheeks and across the bridge of the nose, resembling a butterfly.4
8. Joints: Lupus can attack the joints, causing pain, stiffness, and damage over time. Small joints (hands and feet) are more likely to be affected by lupus than larger joints.
9. Bones: Research has shown that those with lupus have an increase in bone loss, fracture and osteoporosis risk.
10. Muscles: Lupus may cause inflammation of the skeletal muscles (lupus myositis) resulting in muscle weakness and loss of strength.5
11. Antiphospholipid antibodies: Approximately 50% of those with lupus possess antiphospholipid antibodies. These antibodies cause blood to clot more easily in arteries and veins. An increased risk of blood clots raises the chances of heart attack and stroke.
The exact cause of Lupus is unknown. To better understand this disease, your symptoms, and how nutrition is affected, see the table below for more details.