How do you get lupus? Your case might be triggered by an antibiotic, blood pressure medication, or infection, but the underlying cause is a genetic problem.
Lupus can affect your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs.
The most distinctive sign is the lupus rash on the face, in the shape of a butterfly with wings on each cheek. But no two cases of lupus are the same, and some people don’t get the rash.
How do you get lupus?
Lupus is an autoimmune disease with genetic roots. It may be triggered by infections, sunlight, or medications, including antibiotics and drugs for blood pressure and seizures.
What is autoimmune disease?
Your body’s immune system is designed to identify and attack foreign bacteria. If you have an autoimmune disease, the identification process fails, and cells designed to fight disease instead attack your own tissues and organs.
How is lupus diagnosed?
Your doctor will examine you, consider your symptoms, and order lab and imaging tests to reach the diagnosis.
Blood tests for lupus include a complete blood count, which counts red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets as well as the amount of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells. Anemia and low white blood or platelets are common signs of lupus. The erythrocyte sedimentation rate test checks how quickly red blood cells settle to the bottom of a tube in an hour. A faster than normal rate may indicate lupus, cancer, or something else. Because lupus can affect your kidneys and liver, your doctor may check their functioning in a blood test. You also may get an antinuclear antibody (ANA) test, looking for signs that your immune system is stimulated. Most people with lupus get a positive result, but a positive ANA test requires further testing to diagnose lupus.
You also may get several imaging tests, looking for signs of the disease in your chest or heart.
Symptoms of lupus in women
The butterfly rash is a tell-tale sign. You may have a lasting fever, aching and fatigue you can’t shake off, and joint pain. In most cases, the disease comes and goes. You might have flares of symptoms, which fade away. Other signs are skin breaks that get worse in the sun, fingers and toes that turn white or blue in response to cold or stress (Raynaud’s phenomenon), chest pain, and shortness of breath. If your brain is affected, lupus may lead to headaches, dizziness, behavior changes, vision problems, and even strokes or seizures. Many patients run into problems with memory and expressing themselves.
Lupus is more common in women and most often diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 45, though it can come at any age. It is more common in African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans.
Can you die from lupus?
You can die from damage it causes. One of the most common causes of death among lupus patients is kidney failure. Your heart muscle or arteries may become inflamed, which increases the chance of heart troubles.
Your immune system may become weaker, making you more vulnerable to infections.
Other risks, which are unlikely to be fatal, include fragile bones, miscarriages, and preterm births. However, you can still have children. Your doctor may recommend delaying pregnancy until your lupus has been under control for at least six months.
How is lupus treated?
Your doctors can manage symptoms but not cure the underlying disease. The options run from NSAIDs to handle pain and fever to drugs that affect the immune response, such as antimalarial drugs corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and the biologic IV drug belimumab (Benlysta).
March 18, 2019
Janet O’Dell, RN