An increasing number of people worldwide are developing autoimmune diseases – lupus being one of them. Autoimmune diseases (AD) are actually the third most common type of disease in the US after cancer and cardiovascular disease. Considering that human genetics hasn’t changed much in the past 30 years, it is likely that the rise in autoimmune diseases is triggered by changes in environmental factors and lifestyle. One of the possible explanations is increased consumption of processed, high fat and high sugar foods, which triggers inflammation and immune response.
Lupus – a lesser-known autoimmune disease – is most likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. With the right triggers, lupus can appear like a lightning bolt and turn your life upside down. I often get asked: who is at highest risk for developing lupus?
The risk of developing lupus increases if you’re a black, Hispanic, or Asian woman. Actually, 9 out of 10 people diagnosed with lupus are women, which is sometimes explained by higher levels of estrogen produced by females. According to research, women of color often experience more severe symptoms compared to others.
People who are genetically predisposed to this autoimmune condition usually develop lupus after being exposed to triggers like sunlight, infections, and certain drugs (like blood pressure medications, antibiotics, etc.). While lupus can affect people of all ages, it’s most commonly diagnosed among people between the ages of 15-45.
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS LUPUS AND HOW SERIOUS IS IT?
Lupus is a chronic condition that can become a serious threat to your health. Unlike many other diseases (that only target a particular organ or body part), lupus can develop anywhere in the body and cause long-term inflammation of healthy tissue. It can affect your skin, joints, organs, and even blood! Because of this, symptoms of lupus are very diverse and vary from person to person.
While some people might experience severe symptoms, others only have mild cases of lupus. The duration of symptoms can also vary. However, it is common for lupus symptoms to appear in cycles or episodes. There are periods of flare-ups, where a person suffers from one or a combination of symptoms and then there are remissions when lupus seems to retreat and disappear. Can lupus actually disappear?
Unfortunately, lupus is often long-term and it usually only goes away temporarily.
WHAT ABOUT THE SYMPTOMS?
Many symptoms of lupus are similar to that of other autoimmune diseases. For example, fever, fatigue, joint pain, chest pain, headaches, alopecia, commonly develop as a result of an autoimmune disease. However, there are some signs that are more specific to lupus, like a butterfly-shaped rash on the face or body and skin changes that worsen with sun exposure.
Even though these symptoms sound pretty mild, you should take lupus seriously and address it in a timely manner, because possible complications can be quite devastating. For example, lupus can:
- cause kidney failure which can be life-threatening and lead to death;
- affect the brain and cause vision and memory problems, dizziness, behavior changes, and even strokes;
- cause lung bleeding and pneumonia;
- increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases and heart attacks;
- start affecting your blood, which can decrease blood supply to bones and cause their collapse.
The list of lupus-related conditions is long and unpleasant and it’s linked with a number of complications. For example, lupus increases the risk of infections by weakening your immune system and can contribute to the development of UTIs, yeast infections, herpes, shingles, etc. Also, lupus can lead to pregnancy complications and even cancer.
SO, HOW SHOULD ONE ADJUST TO LIVING WITH LUPUS?
Lupus is a lifelong disease, so, unfortunately, you can’t cure it. But there are ways to manage and control the symptoms. Some of the easier strategies include limiting sun exposure, getting regular checkups, eating healthy foods and successful management of other health conditions.
In the case of mild or moderate lupus, some substances like anti-malarial medicine and corticosteroids have shown to be effective for managing the symptoms and controlling flares. Controlling stress levels has been shown to be effective in reducing flares. Low-impact exercise and weight management are also important because higher body fat level increases inflammation and fuels flare-ups.
And finally, it’s important to learn how to predict a lupus flare. Together with the doctor, you can learn how to identify different signs that your body sends you before a flare and find techniques that will help you cope with the symptoms.
DIAGNOSING & TREATING LUPUS: THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
Autoimmune diseases (AD), including lupus, are one of the main directions that we specialize in at the Dempster Clinic. I have personally assisted hundreds of patients with various autoimmune conditions and am dedicated to educating people are various related topics, including the epidemic of autoimmune diseases, signs and causes of chronic inflammation, benefits of IV Vitamin therapy for chronic inflammation, and different ways to fight chronic inflammation through nutrition.
When it comes to diagnosing lupus, it can be pretty complicated because its symptoms are so similar to many other diseases. A combination of tests is needed to conclusively diagnose lupus. These tests can include:
- analysis of blood and urine samples
- physical exam
- medical history
- skin or kidney biopsy in certain cases
Blood and urine tests are particularly important, especially for analyzing your red and white blood cell count, the protein level in urine, and the presence of antibodies. If lupus is affecting a particular organ, more specific tests (chest x-ray, echocardiogram, etc.) might be ordered.
At the Dempster Clinic we also offer comprehensive autoimmune screening, which is an economical and efficient way to analyze predictive antibodies, which can help with the identification of markers and possible precursors of autoimmune diseases. This screening is especially recommended for patients who have a diagnosed autoimmune disorder, as they commonly develop additional autoimmune conditions.
Now, there is no cure (yet) for lupus. But because it can cause various serious health conditions, it is important that we prevent organ damage and prevent flares to make life with lupus as manageable as possible. There are a number of approved lupus medicines that can make your life easier. Additionally, supplements like DHEA and fish oil have been found to be effective.
We would love to help you on your journey to healing. It can be a long, lonely process, but don’t despair. If you would like to get tested for lupus or any other autoimmune disease you can take advantage of our Complimentary 15-minute Discovery Session with me, which can take place over the phone or at the clinic. Working with a knowledgeable practitioner can help get you to find the problem and appropriate solution.
Feel free to schedule an appointment today. Your best health awaits you.
Dr. John Dempster BSc., ND, FAAFM
The Dempster Clinic – Center for Functional Medicine