If you were an avid watcher of the show House, or even if you only ever saw one episode, you have probably heard the famous tagline “It’s never lupus.”. Every time there was a complicated condition that was difficult to diagnose, one of the attending physicians would think it was lupus, only to be corrected in a sarcastic manner by Dr. House himself. And while it’s true that in the show it was almost never lupus, this demonstrates that people with chronic autoimmune conditions often have a hard time getting their doctors to listen when they know instinctively that something is very wrong.
So what exactly is lupus? Lupus is a chronic autoimmune condition that affects multiple organs and areas in the body. There are generally two kinds of lupus: cutaneous and systemic. For the purposes of this post, we will be talking about the systemic version, which is much more serious and complicated. For those not familiar with autoimmune diseases, this is a condition in which the body’s immune system begins to attack normal health cells, causing massive inflammation and tissue damage. In lupus, this occurs in many different tissues such as skin, joints, and virtually any other tissue or organ in the body.
What makes someone suspect that they have lupus? Identifying and diagnosing lupus can be tricky, since symptoms vary widely from person to person and can change over time. Lupus is a fantastic mimicker of other conditions, and often proper diagnosis gets delayed because the person is being treated for the wrong thing.
The most common signs and symptoms of lupus are:
- Fatigue and malaise
- Low grade fever
- Migratory pain and swelling of the joints
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Change in cognition or memory
- Neuropathy or other nerve pain
- Skin rashes – generally on the face
- Heart murmurs or palpitations
These are a few examples from a very long list of complaints associated with lupus.
So if lupus looks like so many other conditions, how is it detected? If lupus is suspected, it can often be confirmed with a blood test for auto-antibodies and other blood markers for inflammation. While this is not 100% accurate, it can be helpful in pinpointing where the inflammation is located in the body. Auto-antibodies that are associated with lupus are called anti-nuclear antibodies (ANA). There are several ANAs that correlate with several different diseases, but some of them are more specific for lupus and can be measured in the blood.
Like all autoimmune diseases, treatment for lupus includes many different factors that need to be tailored to the individual. It is essential to have a knowledgeable physician on board who is familiar with treating lupus. If you have symptoms that are confusing or complicated, the physicians at Aria Integrative Medicine would be a great addition to your healthcare team. If you have questions about how we can help you improve your health, call our office today.