Systemic lupus erythematosus, referred to as SLE or lupus, is a chronic (long-term) disease that causes inflammation — pain and swelling. It is sometimes called the “great imitator,” because of people often confuse lupus with other health problems due to its wide range of symptoms.
In addition to affecting the skin and joints, it can affect other organs in the body such as the kidneys, the tissue lining the lungs (pleura) and heart (pericardium), and the brain. Most patients feel fatigue and have rashes, arthritis (painful and swollen joints) and fever.
Lupus flares vary from mild to serious. Most patients have times when the disease is active, followed by times when the disease is mostly quiet — referred to as a remission. Yet, there is much reason for hope. Improvements in treatment have greatly improved these patients’ quality of life and increased their lifespan.
What causes lupus?
The immune system is the body’s defense system. When healthy, it protects the body by making antibodies (blood proteins) that attack foreign germs and cancers. With lupus, the immune system misfires. Instead of producing protective antibodies, an autoimmune disease begins and makes “autoantibodies,” which attack the patient’s own tissues. Doctors sometimes refer to this as a “loss of self-tolerance.”
As the attack goes on, other immune cells join the fight. This leads to inflammation and abnormal blood vessels (vasculitis). These antibodies then end up in cells in organs, where they damage those tissues. Why this inflammatory response begins is not clear. It most likely results from a mix of inherited tendencies and things in your environment. These include viruses, sunlight and drug allergies. People with lupus may also have an impaired process for clearing old and damaged cells from the body, which causes an abnormal immune response.
Most often, lupus starts in people in their 20s and 30s. The disease is more common in some ethnic groups, mainly blacks and Asians, and tends to be worse in these groups.
How is lupus diagnosed?
Lupus can be hard to detect because it is a complex disease that has many symptoms, and they can come on slowly. As experts in diagnosing and treating autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatologists can best determine whether a patient has lupus and advise them about treatment options.
People with lupus often have symptoms that are not specific to lupus. These include fever, fatigue, weight loss, blood clots and hair loss in spots or around the hairline. They may also have heartburn, stomach pain, and poor circulation to the fingers and toes. Pregnant women can have miscarriages.
The American College of Rheumatology has a list of symptoms and other measures that doctors can use as a guide to decide if a patient with symptoms has lupus. If your doctor finds that you have at least four of these problems, and finds no other reason for them, you may have lupus:
The presence of antiphospholipid antibodies can help doctors detect lupus. These antibodies signal a raised risk of certain complications such as miscarriage, difficulties with memory, or blood clots that may lead to stroke or lung injury. Doctors also may measure levels of certain complement proteins (a part of the immune system) in the blood, to help detect the disease and follow its progress.
How is lupus treated?
There is no cure for lupus, and treating lupus can be a challenge. However, treatment for lupus has improved a great deal. Treatment depends on the type of symptoms you have and how serious they are. Patients with muscle or joint pain, fatigue, rashes and other problems that are not dangerous can receive “conservative” treatment.
Common treatment options include:
Broader health impact of lupus
Even when it is not active, lupus may cause problems later. Some of these problems can be fatal. One of these problems is atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries) that may develop in younger women or may be more severe than usual. This problem raises the risk of heart attacks, heart failure and strokes. Thus, it is vital that patients with lupus lower their other risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It is also important to have as active a lifestyle as possible.
Lupus may also cause kidney disease, which can advance to kidney failure and need dialysis. You can help prevent these serious problems by seeking treatment at the first signs of kidney disease. These signs include:
Living with lupus
Most people with lupus can live normal lives. Treatment of lupus has improved, and people with the disease are living longer. But, it is still a chronic disease that can limit activities. Quality of life can suffer because of symptoms like fatigue and joint pain. Furthermore, some people do not respond to some treatments. Also, you may not be able to predict when lupus will flare. Such problems can lead to depression, anger, loss of hope or loss of the will to keep fighting.
Here are a couple of tips that may help you when living with lupus:
Rheumatologists have long been concerned that the female hormone estrogen or treatment with estrogen may cause or worsen lupus. Recent research showed that estrogen therapy can trigger some mild or moderate flares of lupus, but does not cause symptoms to get much worse. Yet, estrogen can raise the risk of blood clots. Thus, you should not take estrogen if your blood tests show antiphospholipid antibodies (meaning you already have a high risk of blood clots).
Who is Affected?
It can be a difficult disease to diagnose and a difficult disease to treat. It’s called lupus, and as many as 24,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with the disease each year.
May is National Lupus Awareness month, a time to think about lupus and the challenges it presents patients, researchers and health care professionals alike. Scientists today are working on many fronts to understand the genetic underpinnings of the disease and to develop new and more targeted therapies to treat it.
What is Lupus?
Lupus is a disease that can damage many parts of the body, including the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels and brain. It is an autoimmune disease—an illness that occurs when the body mistakenly detects its own tissue as foreign and attacks itself, and can be fatal in some severe cases. While people of all races can have the disease, African American women have a three-times higher number of new cases than white, non-Hispanic women. African American women tend to develop the disease at a younger age than white, non-Hispanic women and to develop more serious and life-threatening complications. It is also more common in women of Hispanic, Asian and Native American descent.
The underlying cause of lupus is not fully known, and there are many types of the disease. The most common form, called systemic lupus erythematosus, commonly causes mouth sores, rash, fatigue, joint pain and swelling, as well as affecting the kidneys.
Lupus also is a chronic disease. “With treatment, the disease may quiet down, but it also may relapse eventually. Although it may be controlled with medications, once you get it, you will always have it,” explains Sarah Yim, M.D., a rheumatologist at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A person with lupus will have good periods and bad periods, she says, and symptoms can range from mild or moderate to severe.
Who is Affected?
Estimates vary on the number of lupus sufferers in the United States, ranging from approximately 300,000 to 1.5 million people. According to the American College of Rheumatology, ten times more women than men have lupus, and the disease often starts between the ages of 15 and 44.
What makes lupus so hard to diagnose? A lot of people can be called lupus sufferers but can all have different things wrong with their immune systems, Yim says. And many of the symptoms that can occur in someone with lupus are non-specific and can also occur in other diseases, making it hard to nail down the diagnosis.
Jonca Bull, M.D., director of FDA’s Office of Minority Health, says there is still an enormous need for better therapeutics, and that scientists may be on the cusp of more refined therapies that bring symptoms under control and bring about remission of the diseases that are associated with susceptibility to lupus or play a role in its development. FDA’s Office of Women’s Health has funded several studies related to lupus and other autoimmune diseases in recent years.
Treatment of lupus depends on the part of the body being affected by the disease, and how serious the problem. FDA approved the first drug to treat lupus, aspirin, in 1948 and later approved corticosteroids, such as prednisone, which suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation. In 1955, the agency approved the antimalarial drug Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine) which helps to relieve some lupus symptoms such as fatigue, rashes, joint pain or mouth sores.
Part of what makes lupus research such a challenge is that the precise problem with the immune system is so different among patients, Yim says. New research is trying to zero in on what the best targets might be.
“Technologies have been developed in recent years that can make our medicines more targeted to address the specific molecule or molecules in the immune system that may be causing the problem,” Yim says. “Older medicines tend to suppress the whole immune system, which works, but it’s a little bit like shooting a fly with a cannonball, and can be associated with many undesirable side effects.”
FDA approved Benlysta—the first targeted therapy for lupus—in 2011. Benlysta is delivered directly into a vein. It is designed to target a protein called B-lymphocyte stimulator, which may reduce the impact of abnormal cells thought to be a factor in the development of lupus.
Yim says that Benlysta doesn’t work for everyone, and not enough research has been done yet to know if it will work in people with very severe lupus. But it works well for lupus patients with skin and joint involvement, she says.
Advances in the understanding and treatment of lupus over the last several decades have resulted in people with the disease living longer.
Despite these advances, however, there remain many people with lupus who need additional treatment options. FDA remains committed to working with researchers and drug developers to help make new treatments a reality.
Source: Food and Drug Administration & American College of Rheumatology
HEAG Medical Community Ghana ("HMCG") Project
HMCG operates a multi-disciplinary physicians office, which will include private care physician services, as well as physical therapy services, a dialysis center, and a rehabilitative center, among other services. It will have approximately 120 to 150 beds.
HEAG Medical Center Ghana (“HMCG”) is established as a private, for-profit service provider, Phase I new 41,000 sustainable medical care/treatment square foot facilities. It will build a strong market presence and brand recognition by offering the highest quality, world-class services at a competitive price. HMCG will meet the broad healthcare needs of a growing and demanding higher income demographic in the Greater Accra Region, and also providing medical health humanitarian outreach services for the rest of Ghana, and beyond.
HMCG will provide partnering opportunities with specialists, both national and international, in every medical and surgical field, will network with pharmaceutical FDA Drugs, Medical supplies providing management and distribution. The HEAG Medical Management Team will provide the ability to set up private practices within the facility. These medical professionals will work effectively with each other to ensure a team-based approach to patient care which will be a key to HMCG’s success.