Systemic lupus is just one of the many different terms surrounding lupus that make it difficult to make sense of. Systemic lupus, systemic lupus erythematosus, cutaneous lupus, are all terms you’re likely to hear at one point or another after a lupus diagnosis, but even after all those syllables, you often aren’t any closer to really understanding what’s going on.
So let’s figure out what exactly is systemic lupus in simple terms. What are some of the different kinds of lupus? And what can you do to treat it?
What Is Systemic Lupus?
Systemic lupus sounds like it must be complicated, but actually, it’s just plain old lupus. The scientific name for lupus in full is systemic lupus erythematosus. But because that is obviously a mouthful, people typically just call it lupus. But what is lupus in the first place?
Well, to put it simply, lupus is an autoimmune condition, which is a condition where the body’s immune system turns against it. See, in a healthy immune system, white blood cells produce antibodies that attach themselves to foreign cells like bacteria and begin to destroy them. Afterward, these antibodies are conditioned to identify and attack these foreign cells before they can infect the body.
This conditioning is why your body is able to develop immunities to certain illnesses after being exposed to them. But it can also lead to serious problems for people with lupus. In cases of lupus, the antibodies begin to identify your body’s own cells as foreign invaders and begin attacking them. As these continues, the bodies inflammation response begins to react to the constant attack on the cells and tissue all over your body begins to become inflamed.
This can cause a wide range of symptoms ranging from minor to life-threatening. Lupus often attacks the heart, lungs, or kidneys. The arteries become hardened under this assault and the lining of the lungs gets inflamed. In addition, the kidneys can suffer significant damage. As a result, people with lupus have a higher risk of a number of health problems like heart attacks or kidney problems.
What Are The Different Kinds Of Lupus?
In addition to plain lupus, there are a few other kinds of lupus. First, there’s cutaneous lupus. In cutaneous lupus, the symptoms of the disease are limited to the skin. Usually, this results in conspicuous rashes all over the body, most often on the face. People with cutaneous lupus sometimes develop systemic lupus as well. Though this is not always the case.
Finally, there is drug-induced lupus. Unlike systemic lupus, drug-induced lupus is caused by certain drugs rather than the immune system. Symptoms of drug-induced lupus typically take a few weeks to months of medication use to appear, but they are generally the same as the symptoms of regular lupus. Luckily, drug-induced lupus is reversible, and once you stop taking the medication, your body should recover within a few months.
How Do You Treat Lupus?
Lupus is a frightening word to hear come out of your doctor’s mouth during an appointment, but there is good news. Lupus is often easy to manage. The first priority when treating lupus is to reduce the level of inflammation. The inflammation is often the damaging and painful aspect of the disease, particularly in the lungs. So reducing inflammation is vital to lupus management.
The first line of treatment is simply non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen. These over-the-counter drugs actually work to keep your tissue from becoming inflammed in addition to serving as painkillers.
But if these NSAIDs don’t work, doctors often prescribe corticosteroids instead. Corticosteroids are a hormone that reduces inflammation. The body produces them naturally, but they can also be injected for therapeutic purposes. By working to reduce the inflammation of lupus, these drugs prevent the damage to the vital organs.
Finally, if more serious measures are needed, doctors can prescribe immunosuppressant drugs to people with lupus. Immunosuppressants work by, you guessed it, suppressing the immune system. Obviously, for lupus, which is a condition caused by an overactive immune system, this is a valuable treatment tool.
Often these types of drugs work very well for reducing the damage that lupus causes and 80-90% of people with lupus will have a normal lifespan. So though lupus can be deadly, for most people it is possible to manage the condition well enough to live a mostly normal life.
So tell us, have you been diagnosed with systemic lupus? How do you manage your condition? Let us know in the comments below.