By: Taylor Eisenstein
It is estimated that some form of lupus affects approximately 1.5 million Americans and approximately five million individuals through the world. While SLE affects people of all ages, races, and ethnic backgrounds, certain individuals are affected to a greater extent. Sex is a risk factor such that women are at greater risk for SLE than men; clinical studies show that eighty to ninety percent of cases affected women. Additionally, age is another significant risk factor for lupus. Onset of SLE commonly occurs during a woman’s childbearing years, which could indicate association with specific hormone levels. Symptoms usually occur prior to age eighteen in fifteen percent of the afflicted population.
Since SLE affects a variety of different organs, there are many possible signs and symptoms. Symptoms include but are not limited to headaches, fatigue, fever, chest pain, mouth sores, hair loss, photosensitivity, and swollen joints. Rashes, notably “butterfly rashes,” are common and are usually found on the cheeks and nose. Many lupus patients also experience Raynaud’s phenomenon, in which hands turn white or blue in reaction to the cold. Many of the aforementioned symptoms are extremely similar to symptoms of disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.
Symptoms often vary unpredictably and can come and go; they can emerge during lupus flares, or they can go away in remission. Consequently, the course and severity of the disease can vary from person to person, and symptoms can range from mild to moderate to severe, especially since different body parts may be affected in different individuals. While the course of the disease might remain stable in some individuals, many others might experience increased severity in symptoms and a progression of organ damage over time. When SLE affects the kidneys, lupus nephritis can occur, which is characterized by kidney inflammation and can result in the need for dialysis and possible kidney failure.
Symptoms of SLE can have a significant impact on a patient’s life and daily activities. Patients have cited difficulty in walking, extreme pain, fatigue and lack of energy, and skin sensitivity as some factors that affect their ability to perform household tasks, recreational activities, and work for their respective occupations. Painful and inflamed joints, for instance, can prevent patients from receiving adequate amounts of sleep. Symptoms of SLE can even go so far as to affect individuals’ mental health, with some individuals citing adverse skin conditions and hair loss as sources of lowered self-esteem.
There are various existing treatments and medications for SLE. Common treatments include antimalarial, immunosuppressive, and steroidal and antisteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The degree to which these drugs are administered is dependent on the level of SLE severity in the affected patient. Other treatments, such as use of probiotics and manipulation of the gut microbiome, are also being examined in the fight against lupus.
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