DEAR DOCTOR K: I saw my doctor for a rash on my face. After further tests, she diagnosed me with lupus. What is this? What is the treatment?
DEAR READER: Lupus is an autoimmune disease. Your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks your body’s own tissues rather than protecting them from outside invaders.
Immune proteins called autoantibodies attack many different parts of the body. This can lead to inflammation and tissue damage in the joints, skin, kidney, nervous system, blood, heart, lungs, digestive system and eyes.
The cause of lupus remains a mystery. Some researchers think it may be triggered by an infection in people who are susceptible to the disease, but no particular type of infection has been discovered to be the cause.
In some people, lupus causes only mild illness. But in others it leads to potentially deadly complications.
Lupus can cause a wide range of symptoms throughout the body including: malaise (a general sick feeling); fever; loss of appetite; weight loss; muscle and joint pain and swelling; a butterfly-shaped rash on the cheeks and bridge of the nose; a more widespread rash and flu-like symptoms after exposure to sunlight; hair loss; a rash that appears as firm, round red plaques with raised borders; painful ulcers in the mouth, nose and genital areas.
Symptoms tend to come and go. Periods of intensified symptoms are called flare-ups. Periods when symptoms disappear are called remissions. You can help prevent flare-ups by limiting sun exposure and using sunscreen when you are in the sun.
Many different types of medications may be used to treat lupus. Doctors usually try antimalarial drugs first. Recent studies suggest that lupus patients treated with antimalarial medications have less active disease and less organ damage over time.