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Lupus

Understanding Lupus

Systemic lupus erythematosus, commonly known as lupus, is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in various areas of the body, resulting in tissue inflammation and damage as well as other illnesses.

Under normal circumstances, the immune system produces antibodies to fight off antigens such as bacteria, viruses and microbes. Those with lupus, however, have immune systems that are unable to differentiate between antigens and healthy tissue. Autoantibodies are then produced, which neutralize both antigens and functional cells, resulting in swelling and tissue deterioration.

Lupus can affect any part of the body, most commonly in the skin, kidneys, lungs, brain, heart, liver, joints and the nervous system. It occurs less commonly in men, with 90% of those diagnosed with the condition being women.

Causes of Lupus

The exact cause of lupus is unknown, but studies have shown that factors such as genetics, environment and the body’s chemical make-up contribute to the development of the autoimmune disease.

  • Hormones

    With 9 out of 10 occurrences of lupus found in women, it has been suggested that there is a relationship between the condition and female sex hormones.
  • Genetics

    Lupus is not hereditary. However, the likelihood that a person who is related to someone who has an autoimmune disease will inherit similar conditions is 20% higher.
  • Environment

    Exposure to certain environmental elements can trigger the onset of lupus, including exposure to UV rays from tanning, overexposure to sunlight, viral infections, emotional stress, smoking and exhaustion.
  • Medications

    It’s possible for the autoimmune disorder to be triggered by antibiotics, blood pressure and anti-seizure medications. For those with drug-induced lupus, treatment simply comes in the form of not taking the medicine.
  • Symptoms of Lupus

    It is important to note that no two instances of lupus are the same. Known as a great imitator, this autoimmune disease is difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are often similar to the symptoms of other illnesses.

    It is also characterized by episodes or flares whereby symptoms, ranging from mild to severe, will develop suddenly before subsiding after a while.

    Since lupus can affect various parts of the body, the symptoms presented will depend on the particular organ or system affected by lupus. Common symptoms include:

    • Chest pain
    • Confusion
    • Dry eyes
    • Fatigue
    • Fever
    • Hair loss
    • Headaches
    • Joint pain
    • Malar or butterfly rash (red and dry skin on the cheeks and bridge of the nose)
    • Memory loss
    • Photosensitivity
    • Reynaud’s disease (phalanges turn pale or blue when exposed to cold or stress)
    • Seizures
    • Shortness of breath
    • Swollen lymph nodes

    Risk Factors of Lupus

    Certain factors that increase the risk of developing the condition include:

    GenderWomen are more prone to developing lupus than men.
    AgeThe disease commonly affects those aged between 15 and 45. Fifteen percent of those diagnosed with the ailment has been found to show symptoms before the age of 18.
    Family HistoryFirst- to second-degree relatives of those diagnosed with lupus have a higher chance of developing it.
    Drug-Related Factors There are medications that induce lupus symptoms, which are temporary and go away as soon as intake of drugs is stopped.

    Lupus Diagnosis

    It is very difficult to diagnose lupus due to its varied symptoms that are also indicative of other illnesses. As such, doctors conduct a combination of physical examinations as well as a series of laboratory and imaging tests before making an accurate diagnosis.

    With the test results, the doctor will then identify the location of the affected tissues and organs, thereby allowing him to prescribe the most efficient lupus treatment.

    Treatment for Lupus

    In order to prevent lupus from progressing and to manage pain, medicines are prescribed, including:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

    These can help alleviate pain, inflammation and fever.
  • Antimalarial drugs

    Typically used to treat malaria, these medications target the immune system and can help reduce the chances of lupus flares.
  • Corticosteroids

    These can reduce inflammation and control illnesses that cause damage to the brain and kidneys.
  • Immunosuppressants

    These medicines prevent the immune system from attacking the body.
  • There is currently no known cure for lupus, but researchers are continually carrying out clinical trials for new treatments that might help better detect and treat this disease.

    Our Services

    There are more than 100 different types of rheumatic disorders. Our team works together to diagnose and treat the full spectrum of these disorders, including autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, as well as other forms of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis, gout and Gout. Treatments for the various conditions may include lifestyle changes, medication and surgery. A/Prof Leong will tailor each treatment plan to effectively manage the condition in each patient.

    Click on each service to find out more

    About Our Arthritis Specialist

    A/Prof Leong Keng Hong is a senior consultant rheumatologist at Gleneagles Medical Centre and an Adjunct Associate Professor at Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore. He is the founder of the Osteoporosis Society (Singapore) (OSS), established in 1996, and served as its President until 2004. He also served as the Inaugural Chairman of the Chapter of Rheumatologists in the Academy of Medicine, Singapore from 2004-2007 and was delegated as Chairman until 2013.

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