What is lupus erythematosus?

Lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disease. Our body's own defenses attack the connective tissues that connect cells together. Many different areas of the body can be affected and some severe forms of the disease can severely impair someone's life. There are four main types of lupus erythematosus, but this article will only deal with the most common (and most severe) type: systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). All types of lupus erythematosus will be covered in more detail in another article.

Systemic lupus erythematosus can affect many different parts of the body, particularly the skin, heart, joints, blood vessels, lungs, liver, kidneys, and the nervous system. Typically, people get periods of illness (called flares), with alternating spells of better health (remissions). Systemic lupus erythematosus affects more women than men, particularly between the ages of 15 and 50.

Signs and symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus can be variable, but most of the time, an affected person will suffer from fevers, tiredness, lethargy, joint pain, and muscle weakness, as well as impaired mental functioning. There can also be other signs and symptoms, depending on which part of the body is affected.

A typical sign of systemic lupus erythematosus is the butterfly rash, which is seen over the cheeks and bridge of the nose. This is a part of the face which is most exposed to sunlight. Ulcers and hair loss can also be seen.

People who are suffering from systemic lupus erythematosus may also get anaemic (which can lead to lethargy and tiredness) and may also suffer from a low number of white blood cells (they may get more infections) and platelets (they may bleed for longer than normal or following only a small injury) in their blood too. There may also be a change in what proteins may be found in the blood. People suffering from systemic lupus erythematosus may also suffer from heart problems, and may get short of breath easily, may have chest pains, may feel faint, and may have a pulse which is different to what it normally is. Problems with lungs can cause shortness of breath, coughing, and possibly coughing up blood (haemoptysis).

In some cases of systemic lupus erythematosus, people may develop problems with their kidneys, and this can lead to passing blood in the urine (haematuria) and possibly renal failure. However, renal failure is rare because of improved treatments for systemic lupus erythematosus.

There are a number of causes and triggers for systemic lupus erythematosus, which includes genetics, UV light, and possibly various drugs as well.

Treatment is quite variable, and it depends upon the severity of the disease and how many other parts of the body are affected. For mild and moderate cases, it may be possible to not have to give any treatment. For more severe cases, immunosuppressants and certain types of painkillers might be necessary. It might be important to avoid sunlight, silica, and some other chemicals. Studies have shown that eating a healthy, wholesome, vegetarian diet may also help reduce symptoms. For people suffering with kidney failure, a kidney transplant or dialysis might be needed.

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