Who gets lupus?
Lupus is most prevalent in women (the incidence is around nine-times higher than in men), and often occurs during the childbearing years, although it can affect anyone at any age.
What causes lupus?
There are various factors that may cause someone to develop lupus such as puberty, the menopause, following childbirth or after trauma. It can also be triggered by a virus or following exposure to UV rays.
Lupus has also been found to be hereditary so family history is important, as well as any history of other autoimmune conditions such as scleroderma or rheumatoid arthritis.
How is it diagnosed?
With such a wide range of symptoms, lupus can be difficult to diagnose. A health professional may carry out an ANA (anti-nuclear antibody) blood test as well as a urine test to check for blood and protein.
Can lupus be treated?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for lupus yet but if the condition is monitored and a good treatment programme is put in place, it can usually be managed fairly well.
Antimalarials, such as hydroxychloroquine and mepacrineare, are the most commonly prescribed treatment for lupus. In addition to helping with skin and joint problems, they can reduce fatigue, decrease the cardiovascular risk, improve pregnancy outcomes and reduce the frequency of lupus flares.
Anti-inflammatory drugs can be used if someone has mainly joint and muscle-related symptoms, as well as steroids such as prednisolone. Immunosuppressants, including methotrexate and azathioprine, can be prescribed if the symptoms are more severe.
Living well with lupus
- Although it may be difficult, try to plan rest periods throughout the day and minimise stress by taking regular, gentle exercise
Keep in contact with your specialist team and advise them of any changes so that they can monitor drug usage and assist with self-help techniques
Avoid sun exposure, wear a hat, use a minimum of factor 30 sunscreen and cover up where you can. Sunscreen is available on prescription to many people who have lupus
If you smoke, try to stop as soon as possible. We know that smoking causes circulatory problems and fibrosis of the lungs
Be aware of your own body and symptoms as these may signal a 'flare' (a time when symptoms may be triggered more severely due to environmental or other factors such as sunlight or stress). Talking to a healthcare professional during the earlier stages can help you to access help quickly
Raynaud's phenomenon can often be a sign of lupus. Secondary Raynaud's occurs in one-fifth of people diagnosed with lupus
'Overlap syndromes' occur in some lupus patients who also have symptoms that overlap with other connective tissue diseases, such as scleroderma, polymyositis, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjögren's syndrome. Symptoms such as chronic fatigue, joint aches and pains are common to several conditions so it is important to talk to your doctor if your symptoms change
Lupus specialist centres
- Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases, Upper Borough Walls, Bath BA1 1RL
Addenbrookes Hospital, Hills Rd, Cambridge CB2 0QQ
Manchester Royal Infirmary, Grafton Str, Manchester M13 9WL
Louise Coote Lupus Clinic, Guys Hospital, Great Maze Pond London SE1 9RT
UCLH, 235 Euston Rd, Fitzrovia, London NW1 2BU
Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Mindelsohn Way, Birmingham B15 2TH
Alder Hey Children's Hospital, E Prescot Rd, Liverpool L14 5AB
London Bridge Lupus Centre, London Bridge Hospital, 27 Tooley Street, London SE1 2PR (not NHS)
Tel: 020 7234 2155
For further information people can contact LUPUS UK).
With thanks to Lupus UK for assisting with the content and imagery supplied for the article.