This complex autoimmune disease causes inflammation in various parts of the body, from your skin to your joints to your lungs. But you don’t have to let it get the better of you — there are treatments available to help minimise your symptoms. Here’s all you need to know about lupus, how it affects the body and how to treat your symptoms.
Symptoms differ depending on which part of the body is affected, but inflammation and swelling can occur in your joints, skin, kidneys, blood, heart, brain and lungs.
Systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE, is the most common form of lupus, affecting joints, muscles, various tissues, and organs in the body. This type of lupus typically occurs in cycles; a person can go into remission and have no symptoms at all, and at other times they will experience flare-ups with symptoms of the illness.
Lupus affects women in particular, and is most common between the ages of 15 and 44. Many people diagnosed with lupus experience mild symptoms, but without treatment it can become much worse. Whilst there’s no cure for the illness, there are a range of treatments that focus on easing symptoms and reducing inflammation.
What causes lupus?
It’s not exactly known what causes lupus, but health experts believe that it could develop in response to a number of factors including hormonal (abnormal hormone levels, such as increased oestrogen levels), genetic disposition and family history, environmental (smoking, stress, and exposure to toxins like silica dust, chemicals or viruses, and sunlight exposure), viral infections and medications, or a combination of all of these.
Why does it happen?
An autoimmune disease is a condition where your immune system mistakenly attacks your body’s healthy cells, and instead of attacking bacteria, viruses or other sources of infection, it attacks healthy organs and tissues. It does this by producing proteins called antibodies. White blood cells, or B lymphocytes, produce these antibodies.
Your immune system can usually tell the difference between foreign cells and your own cells, but if you have an autoimmune disease, like lupus, it mistakes part of your body, like your joints or skin, as foreign, because it’s unable to differentiate between unwanted substances, or antigens, and healthy tissue. So instead of fighting infections (which is what your immune system is supposed to do), it directs antibodies to attack the healthy cells, just like it does with germs, and causes swelling, pain, and tissue damage.
What are the symptoms of lupus?
In times of flare-ups lupus has a wide range of symptoms, including:
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- pain or swelling in the joints
- swelling in the legs or around the eyes
- skin rashes or legions
- high fever
- skin sensitivity — particularly from the sun
- chest pain
- unusual hair loss
Early symptoms of lupus can begin in teens and develop into your 30s. If you experience a number of the above symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor.
What treatments are there for lupus?
Your doctor will prescribe a specific treatment plan based on your individual symptoms. Some of these may include medication to help reduce pain and swelling, balance hormones, regulate your immune system’s activity, reduce or prevent organ damage, manage blood pressure, control cholesterol and reduce the risk of infection.
Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be taken to reduce swelling and pain.
Lupus can also make the skin extremely sensitive to sunlight. Many people who have lupus also have photosensitivity — a condition that means that you’re particularly sensitive to UV radiation. Some people with lupus often find that over-exposure to sunlight triggers a number of other symptoms including skin rash, fatigue, joint pain and internal swelling.
Protect your skin from the sun by wearing SPF30 sunscreen every day, and avoiding peak hour sun. Cover up your skin if you can, to avoid any painful flare-ups.
Other therapies and lifestyle choices that can help alleviate symptoms include:
- eating a healthy diet
- exercising regularly
- applying heat and cold to affected areas
- use gentle, non-irritating skin products
- taking natural supplements such as Vitamin D, calcium and fish oil
- quitting smoking
- minimise stress (if possible)
- practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga
Here are some pharmacist-picked products that could also help alleviate some of your symptoms.
MooGoo Scalp Friendly Shampoo 1L
Dermal Therapy Scalp Relief Serum 60mL
Ego QV Hair Gentle Conditioner 250g
Joint pain relief
Deep Heat Odourless Back Patches 2 Pack
Dencorub Self Adhesive Heat Patches 3 Pack
Bodichek Hot or Cold Wheat Bag Long
Avene Sunscreen Emulsion SPF50+ 50mL
Cancer Council Sensitive Sunscreen SPF50+ 110mL
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Sunscreen SPF50+ 50mL
DermaVeen Moisturising Lotion for Sensitive Skin 1L
Epaderm Cream Pump 500mL
Koéna Dermaceutical Daily Moisturiser 100g
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