Systemic lupus erythematosus is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects many parts of the body. Lupus causes inflammation in areas like the skin, joints, and organs. Lupus varies in how it affects people, but typically people experience flares in which the symptoms become severe for a period of time and then lessen as the flare subsides. Flares are common and can vary in seriousness. When the disease is minimally active, it is known as remission.
What Causes Lupus?
Lupus is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks healthy tissues and causes widespread inflammation. The exact cause of lupus is unknown. However, individuals likely inherit the genes for lupus, and those genes are then triggered by an unknown source. Environmental exposures, like sun exposure, chemicals, hormones, and infections are possible triggers. Certain medications can cause a drug-induced version of lupus. These cases are not chronic, and the symptoms often disappear when the person stops taking the medications.
Lupus is significantly more common in females than in males. Approximately 20% of patients with lupus are children or teens. Lupus commonly affects young females during puberty and in their early 20s with a second spike in the fourth decade.
What are the Symptoms of Lupus?
Lupus can affect the kidneys, brain, heart, and lungs. Fatigue, weight loss, and fever are the most common symptoms. A butterfly-shaped rash, or malar rash, across the face is the most distinctive symptom of lupus. In severe cases, lupus can cut off the blood supply to the bones, called avascular necrosis, which can cause severe bone loss. Other symptoms of the disease include:
- Blood clots
- Weight loss
- Hair loss
- Stomach pain
- Fluid around the heart or lungs leading to chest pain and shortness of breath
- Color changes and swelling of fingers and toes in response to cold (Raynaud’s Syndrome)
- Mouth or nose sores
- Sore or swollen joints (arthritis)
- Kidney issues including lupus nephritis
- Neurologic conditions (seizures, strokes, etc.)
- Pregnant women may have miscarriages
Lupus Treatment Options
Recent treatment advances have made patient’s lives with lupus easier and longer and have been effective at reducing the severity of flares. Since lupus affects so many aspects of the body, the treatment depends on the location, types, and severity of the symptoms. More severe symptoms require more aggressive treatment and constant reassessment is needed in order to adjust the medications for efficacy.
Living With Lupus
Lupus is a chronic disease with no cure. However, most cases can be managed with close monitoring of symptoms and adjustment of medications. A rheumatologist will prescribe medications to reduce symptoms and prevent complications. Recent treatment advances have made living with lupus more manageable and comfortable than ever before.
Protecting your skin from severe sun exposure, exercising regularly, avoiding smoking, and eating a healthy diet can help reduce inflammation and minimize the frequency and severity of flares. Regular visits with your rheumatologist are key to detect and manage the complications associated with lupus.
Advanced Rheumatology of Houston can help you live a comfortable life. Dr. Brionez is experienced with aiding and assisting individuals with lupus. Schedule an appointment today by calling (281) 766-7886.
Learn More About Lupus
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the Complications of Lupus?
The inflammation associated with lupus may affect many areas of the body including the kidneys, the central nervous system, the blood vessels, the lungs, and the cardiovascular system. Women with lupus are advised to avoid pregnancy until their symptoms have been under control and without flares for about six months and under the close supervision of a rheumatologist. The medications used to suppress the immune system in lupus treatment weaken the immune system and individuals with lupus are more susceptible to infections. There is also an increased risk of developing cancer due to chronic, widespread inflammation and suppression of the immune system.
How is Lupus Diagnosed?
Lupus is difficult to diagnose because it has nonspecific symptoms, and often the more distinguishable symptoms do not appear in the early stages of the disease. The best way of diagnosing this disease is through a series of blood and urine tests and physical examinations. The most important test in diagnosing the disease is the antinuclear antibody test which is almost always positive in lupus. Additionally, chest x-rays and echocardiograms may be used to determine if the disease has affected the heart and lungs. Your urine will be checked for protein and blood to assess your kidney function to help diagnose lupus nephritis.
Dr. Tamar Brionez
About Our Doctor
Dr. Brionez has more than 10 years of experience in diagnosing and treating rheumatic musculoskeletal disease and systemic autoimmune conditions. She has a Bachelor of Science in Nutritional Sciences from Texas A&M University and completed her Doctor of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. Additionally, she completed her Fellowship in Rheumatology at the University of Texas-Health Science Center. Dr. Brionez is board certified in both Internal Medicine and Rheumatology and has been in private practice since 2009.
Dr. Brionez is known for her dedication to her patients and her ability to diagnose complex conditions. She adheres to the highest standards of medical care while relying on cutting-edge technology and the most up-to-date medical research. Dr. Brionez has adopted a holistic view of her patients’ health and is considered a leading specialist in managing complex autoimmune disorders including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, scleroderma, osteoporosis, and many others. She is fluent in Spanish and is dedicated to hiring diverse staff to best meet her patients’ needs.