Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, commonly known as Lupus, is a disorder of the immune system. Our immune system primarily serves the purpose of defending our body against infections. At the same time it is busy with internal housekeeping, such as removing old dysfunctional and malignant cells. In Lupus, the immune system becomes over-reactive. It produces antibodies which damage normal healthy cells. This in turn leads to disease of the organs to which the antibodies were directed.
While Lupus patients have an over-reactive immune system, they sometimes are not as effective in coping with common infections, such as respiratory or bowel infections. This problem is further aggravated if the patients are on medications such as corticosteroids and immuno-suppressive drugs. Infections may not only become life threatening, but they can also make the Lupus become active. Identifying and treating infections early is critical to managing the disease.
Lupus has a different disease pattern in different patients according to the antibodies involved. Most patients with Lupus suffer from joint pains and skin rashes. However, many also develop fluid around the heart and lungs, and in some cases, kidney disease and dysfunction of some brain activities. The latter could lead to visual disturbances, memory loss, epileptic fits, severe headaches and psychological problems.
Lupus occurs mostly in young women, at an average age of 22 years. However, the disease can also affect males, and has been diagnosed in different age groups. People from African descent living in the Caribbean and North America have the highest prevalence of Lupus. Therefore young Caribbean women, who suffer from joint pains and/or skin rashes, should, without delay, do a blood test in order to determine if their complaints are caused by Lupus. Young people who experience excess protein in their urine should be tested as soon as possible. Delay in making the diagnosis may result in permanent severe organ disease.
The diagnosis of Lupus is suspected after someone has done a Anti-Nuclear Antibodies (ANA) blood test and the results turn out to be positive. Other tests, including Anti-DNA and Anti-Sm will confirm the diagnosis. In many patients however the diagnosis is suspected, but not confirmed. These are patients with a mild form of the disease. Repetitive analysis will usually confirm the diagnosis over a period of years.