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Alternative Medicine and Lupus, Part 1

Lupus is the short term for lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease in which the body begins to perceive itself as a foreign invader, and responds by attacking its own cells with antibodies, damaging or killing them in the process. People with lupus may sustain damage to their skin, connective tissue, organs, and blood cells; in extreme cases, lupus can be fatal, although the vast majority of lupus patients are able to function and lead fairly normal lives with proper treatment.

The word “lupus” is Latin for “wolf,” and the term lupus erythematosus refers to the characteristic red rash that covers the nose and cheeks of many lupus patients, which some believe to resemble the markings of a wolf. Doctors have known about lupus since the 1800s, and there are writings describing this condition dating back to Ancient Greece; however, it wasn’t until 1971 the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) officially defined the symptoms used to diagnose this disease. In 1996 these criteria were again revised, so that today lupus is diagnosed in patients that present 4 of 11 specific symptoms involving abnormalities of the skin, joints, organs, central nervous system, and blood. Patients with lupus may exhibit a red rash or extreme sun-sensitivity, inflammation of the joints or tissue lining internal organs, seizures, or blood abnormalities such as anemia, false-positive syphilis tests, or positive ANA (antinuclear antibody) blood tests.

Lupus can cause symptoms of chronic fatigue, fever, mental confusion, and chest pain, but the symptom most commonly reported by those suffering from lupus is a general feeling of pain throughout the entire body. In fact, most people with lupus first seek medical help because they are experiencing some manner of painful inflammation—80 to 90 percent of patients with SLE complain of painful joints (arthralgia), and most are plagued by muscle aches, or myalgias, as well. This may be due in part to the chronic inflammation which lupus produces throughout the body, which causes the synovium membrane, the connective tissue that lines joints in the knees, hands, and hips, to thicken and stiffen over time.

Lupus is generally classified as one of four types: discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), drug-induced lupus erythematosus, and lupus occurring as part of a Mixed Connective Tissue Disease (MCTD).

Discoid, or cutaneous lupus, affects only the skin, and may be characterized by rashes that form red disk-like patterns on the body. Often the rash is the only lupus symptom for patients with DLE; people with this form of lupus may test negative even when given an ANA (antinuclear antibody) blood test, the primary test used for diagnosing lupus.

Systemic lupus erythematosus is a more serious form of this disorder, and affects the entire body. Patients with SLE may experience a wide variety of symptoms, including pain, fatigue, depression, fever, swollen glands, rashes, swollen joints and, in some cases, organ damage. About a third of those with lupus have the organ-threatening form of this disease, which can cause serious damage to the heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, blood cells, and central nervous system.

Drug-induced lupus is exactly what it sounds like; some prescription drugs cause reactions in sensitive individuals that mimic lupus erythematosus. However, symptoms of drug-induced lupus are generally not as severe as those of SLE, and usually abate when use of the prescription drug is discontinued, although sometimes treatment with lupus medications is required for short periods of time.

Alternative Medicine and Lupus, Part 2


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