Systemic Lupus Erythematosis

Systemic lupus erythematosus or lupus for short (SLE) is an autoimmune disorder. Like all autoimmune disorders, there is an interaction between an individual’s genetic makeup and the environment. This interaction can result in a malfunction of the immune system which produces antibodies that target the body tissues.  This causes inflammation in a variety of different organs.

In SLE common symptoms include skin rashes, mouth ulcers, anaemia, joint pain and fatigue. There are a vast number of symptoms that can occur in individuals with lupus and each person with this condition has their unique set of symptoms.

The symptoms depend on which part of the body is inflamed. The inflammation can occur in the skin, muscles and joints, kidneys and lungs, and sometimes in the brain.

The level of inflammation and hence symptoms can ebb and flow. Sometimes the environmental triggers such as stress and/or exposure to sunlight are recognised but mostly the triggers are uncertain. There is a growing evidence to suggest that the bacteria in the gut and the integrity of the lining of the bowel wall is part of the environmental trigger for inflammation.

A precise diagnosis of SLE can sometimes be difficult. Many individuals and some health practitioners falsely assume that a positive antinuclear antibody test (ANA) confirms the diagnosis of lupus. This blood test, however, is not diagnostic in any way. The test, however, can be used as supporting evidence for a diagnosis when all the other signs are present.

SLE can be a very mild and self-limiting condition or it can produce a severe illness. Most commonly the illness is mild. There is a very strong genetic link and some ethnic groups such as African-American and Asian women have the highest incidence of this condition.

Management

While there is no cure, SLE like all autoimmune disorders can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes.

The most common medication prescribed is hydroxychloroquine ( Plaquenil).  This medication was originally used to treat malaria but was found to be useful in treating some of the symptoms of SLE and in preventing flare-ups.  There are many other medications which are used if and when the inflammation is more intense.

As with all autoimmune diseases understanding and implementing lifestyle strategies as outlined in the Pathways To Wellbeing program forms the basis of quality self- management.

There is an intense international research effort directed to understanding autoimmune diseases and therapies which we will highlight as they become available.