Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), also known as lupus, is a disease of the immune system, which is estimated to affect more than 20,000 people in Australia and New Zealand.
It is chronic and complex autoimmune disease amongst the public, and medical professionals.
Lupus can affect any system or organ ‘head to toe’ in the body. When misdiagnosed or undiagnosed lupus can have devastating and even fatal consequences. Lupus does not discriminate.
Symptoms can be vague and vary between people, and therefore diagnosis can be difficult. However, once diagnosed, a combination of prescribed treatment and lifestyle adjustments enables most people with lupus to enjoy an almost normal life.
What is Lupus?
The main role of the immune system is to fight foreign invaders such as bacteria, moulds and viruses. In autoimmune diseases the immune system produces antibodies that attack the body's own healthy tissue. Lupus is an autoimmune disease, and the antibodies produced by the immune system in lupus cause inflammation, tissue damage and pain.
Types of Lupus
There are two main types of lupus, which differ significantly in the type and severity of symptoms:
- Systemic lupus erythematosus(also known as SLE) is characterised by flare ups and periods of improvement (remissions), and can can affect almost any organ or system of the body. In most people only the skin and joints are affected. However, in some people SLE can also affect the kidneys, lungs, heart, blood vessels and/or brain.
- Discoid lupus(also known as chronic cutaneous lupus erythematosus) is generally milder than SLE and usually appears as a red scaly rash on sun exposed areas such as the face, scalp, arms, legs or trunk. Most people with discoid lupus have symptoms only on their skin. However, a small number of people with discoid lupus will develop SLE.
Lupus can cause many symptoms, including:
- Joint pain or swelling - seen in 50% of people with lupus
- Skin rashes that get worse with sun exposure - seen in 20% of people with lupus
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Fatigue, weakness and lethargy - these affect 10% of people with lupus and may be severe
Most people with lupus will never experience all the symptoms and no two individuals seem to experience identical symptoms.
Early diagnosis is important.
The diagnosis of lupus is usually suspected on the basis of clinical symptoms and signs and confirmed by laboratory tests.
Blood tests will usually include an Anti Nuclear Antibody (ANA) test, which measures antibodies to self tissues. Whilst this is a good screening test, not all people with SLE have a positive ANA result and many people with a positive ANA do not have SLE. For example, close relatives of SLE patients may have a positive ANA without developing SLE themselves. Additional blood tests are therefore necessary to confirm the diagnosis and to monitor the activity of SLE.
There are currently no cures for lupus, but there are effective medications that will bring the disease under control, and often permanently. As you grow older, it is likely that the disease will improve.
Our doctors at Elm Rd. are here to discuss any concerns you may have or if you would like more information.