What is Lupus?

Friday, February 18, 2005

What is Lupus?

The African-American Lupus Foundation, Inc.
The African-American Lupus Foundation of Minnesota, Inc. is a nonprofit charitable organization that provides education, support and services to those affected by Lupus, promotes awareness and understanding of Lupus to others and supports research that seeks to improve the diagnosis and treatment of Lupus as well as to discover its cause and cure.

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Main Entry:
lu·pus Pronunciation: 'lü-p&s
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Medieval Latin, from Latin, wolf
Date: 14th century
: any of several diseases characterized by skin lesions; especially : SYSTEMIC LUPUS ERYTHEMATOSUS

What is Lupus?
Lupus is a chronic (persisting over a long period of time), inflammatory disease in which the body's immune system fails to serve its normal protective functions and instead forms antibodies (substances produced by the body to fight bacteria and other foreign substances) that attack healthy tissues and organs.


Common Lupus Symptoms:
Extreme Fatigue
Muscle Aches
Joint Swelling
Persistent Low Grade Fever
Butterfly Rash Across Bridge of Nose and Cheeks
Weight Loss
Hair Loss
Sensitivity to the Sun
Chest Pain on Deep Breathing
Mouth or Nose Ulcers
Raynaud's Phenomenon

Because Lupus persents itself in a variety of ways and can mimic the symptoms of other diseases, diagnosis is often difficult. If you have three or more of these symptoms on a recurring basis, call your doctor.

What Causes Lupus?
The cause of Lupus remains unknown, but evidence points to heredity, hormones, immune system dysfunction, infections (including viruses) or some external environmental occurrence. Scientists suspect that individuals are genetically predisposed to Lupus and that the disease remains quiet until a trigger sets the disease process in motion.


Who gets Lupus?
Anyone can get Lupus. However, 90% of Lupus patients are women. They are usually diagnosed in their child-bearing years (15-45). Lupus affects one of every 185 Americans. African American, Latinos, Asians and Native American are at particular risk.

Only 10% of those diagnosed with Lupus will have a parent or sibling who already has or may develop Lupus. Approximately 5% of the children born to individuals with Lupus will develop the illness.

How is Lupus Treated?
Treatment varies for individuals with Lupus, but the doctor has several goals: preventing flares, treating flares when they occur and minimizing complications.

Preventing Flares
Often requires the most diligent work on the part of the patient to determine what her/his triggers are and striving to avoid them. In addition, a Lupus patient may want to implement an overall "wellness plan", including plenty of rest, stress management, and a sensible diet and exercise program (it is important to consult a doctor when starting a new exercise program).

Treating Flares and Minimizing Complications
Several types of drugs are used depending on the individual's symptoms and needs. They may include both over-the-counter medications or prescription medications.

Examples are:
* Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
* Antimalarials
* Corticosteroids (such as prednisone)
* Others depending on the circumstances

What is a Lupus Flare?
A Lupus flare is a period of heightened disease activity, causing inflammation and pain.

What Triggers (causes) Flares?
It varies from individual to individual, but common triggers include:

* Overwork or not enough rest
* Physical or emotion trauma or stress
* Over-exposure to sunlight or other sources of ultraviolet light
* Infection or other illness

The idea that lupus is generally a fatal disease is one of the gravest misconceptions about this illness. In fact, the prognosis of lupus is much better today than ever before. It is true that medical science has not yet developed a method for curing lupus and some people do die from the disease. However, people with non-organ threatening disease can look forward to a normal lifespan if they follow the instructions of their physician, take their medication as prescribed, and know when to seek help for unexpected side effects of a medication or a new manifestation of their lupus.

Although some people with lupus have severe recurrent attacks and are frequently hospitalized, most people with lupus rarely require hospitalization. There are many lupus patients who never have to be hospitalized, especially if they are careful and follow their physician's instructions. New research brings unexpected findings each year. The progress made in treatment and diagnosis during the last decade has been greater than that made over the past 100 years. It is therefore a sensible idea to maintain control of a disease that tomorrow may be curable.

Packets containing information about Lupus and the services of The Foundation are send to all who request them. http://www.aalfinc.org/contactus.html

If you would like more information about Lupus, treatments or any of our services, please contact:

African-American Lupus Foundation, Inc.
612-822-0206 or 1-800-822-0206

Email: contactus@aalfinc.org

or we are online at http://www.aalfinc.org

A.A.L.F., Inc.
3029 Second Avenue South
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55408

Skin Disease In Lupus

Skin disease-also called cutaneous disease-is very common in lupus erythematosus (LE). Only joint pain (arthritis) is more common. People with lupus can develop many different types of skin lesions. The term "skin lesion" used here refers to a distinct area of abnormal skin.

Lupus skin disease can be divided into two broad categories:

Skin lesions that are seen only in people with LE.
These three types of lesions are:

chronic cutaneous LE (CCLE), also called discoid LE (DLE)
subacute cutaneous LE (SCLE)
acute cutaneous LE (ACLE)

Skin lesions that can occur in people with LE but can also occur in other diseases. There are a number of forms of skin disease in this category, such as:

calcinosis (calcium deposits in the skin)
hair loss (alopecia)
rheumatoid nodules
Raynaud's phenomenon
livedo reticularis.

Systemic Lupus And Discoid Lupus
A frequently asked question by people with lupus is:
"What is the relationship between systemic LE (SLE) and lesions seen in discoid LE (DLE)?"

Lupus can be viewed as a disease continuum or spectrum:

* At the mild end of the spectrum are the minimally affected LE patients. They will have only localized DLE skin lesions.
* At the other end of the spectrum are patients who have active SLE with internal organ involvement. They will have ACLE skin lesions or no skin lesions at all.
* SCLE patients tend to fall toward the middle of the spectrum since they often have some evidence of mild SLE.

People with DLE lesions and no clinical evidence of SLE usually do not produce autoantibodies in their blood (i.e. antinuclear and anti-DNA autoantibody tests are negative). On the other hand, SLE is characterized by the presence of one or more types of such autoantibodies.

* Of the patients who initially have only DLE lesions, approximately 10 percent will go on to develop SLE.
* Of the patients with SLE, approximately 20-30 percent will develop DLE lesions at some time during the course of their disease.

Whether DLE lesions are occurring alone or as a result of SLE can only be determined by:
1.) performing a complete medical history
2.) physical examination
3.) a set of appropriate blood tests.

* Approximately 20 percent of people with SLE will have DLE as their initial disease symptom.
* An additional 10 percent of people with SLE will have subacute cutaneous LE (SCLE) skin lesions as their initial disease symptom.
* In addition, approximately 60-65 percent of people with SLE will develop some type of skin problem during the course of their illness.

However, skin lesions in people with lupus are less of a problem with the use of:

* oral corticosteroids (steroids) such as prednisone
* antimalarial drugs such as hydroxychloroquine (brand names: Plaquenil, Quineprox).

Forms of Chronic Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus (CCLE)
Discoid LE
DLE is the most common form of CCLE.

* The coin-shaped ( i.e., "discoid") lesions of DLE are most commonly seen on the scalp and face, but can be seen on other parts of the body as well.

Localized DLE: lesions limited to the head, ears, and neck

Generalized DLE: lesions present both above and below the neck (generalized DLE carries a slightly increased risk of accompanying SLE).

* DLE lesions are often red, scaly, and thickened. As the lesions get older they can produce scarring and discoloration of skin (darkly colored and/or lightly colored areas).
* When DLE lesions occur in the scalp, hair loss (alopecia) can result. This form of hair loss is often permanent.
* DLE lesions are usually painless and typically do not itch.
* Skin cancer can occasionally develop in long-standing DLE lesions; therefore, any changes in a long-standing DLE lesion should be brought to your doctor's attention.

Other forms of CCLE
Hypertrophic or verrucous

* DLE lesions that develop very thick scale (hyperkeratosis) are referred to as:

hypertrophic (thickened) lesions OR verrucous (wart-like) lesions.

Lupus profundus

* DLE lesions may also occur in conjunction with firm lumps in the fatty tissue underlying the skin (panniculitis). This form of panniculitis is called lupus profundus.

Mucosal DLE is the name given to the lesions that occasionally occur in the mucus membranes of the mouth, nose, and eyes

Palmar-plantar DLE is the name given to the lesions that occasionally occur on the hands and feet.

Subacute Cutaneous LE (SCLE)
Two clinical forms of SCLE lesions

1.) The papulosquamous variety of SCLE is characterized by red (erythematous) plaques-elevated areas of scaly skin with distinct margins.
* This form of SCLE can resemble psoriasis.
* These lesions appear most commonly on the sun-exposed areas of the arms, shoulders, neck and trunk, with the face being affected less frequently.
2.) The other form of SCLE consists of red annular (ring-shaped) lesions occurring on the same parts of the body.
* Both forms of SCLE are characteristically very photosensitive. This means they get worse when exposed to sunlight or artificial sources of ultraviolet light.
* Unlike DLE, SCLE lesions do not scar.
* However, they can produce areas of light or dark skin discoloration.
As with other forms of cutaneous LE, SCLE lesions usually do not itch.
* Occasionally, other forms of LE skin disease-such as DLE and ACLE-can develop in SCLE patients. In these cases, ACLE could be a warning sign for the development of a more severe form of SLE.

Diagnosing SCLE

* Approximately 50 percent of patients with SCLE will have a diagnosis of SLE.
* However, more severe forms of SLE are quite unusual and occur in less than 19 percent of SCLE cases.

These cases will be characterized by:

disease in the kidneys
disease in the brain
disease in other vital organs

* Ro/SS-A autoantibodies are found in the blood of approximately 70 percent of SCLE patients. This is the same autoantibody that is produced by patients with Sjogren's syndrome.
* The skin lesions seen in infants with neonatal LE are similar to SCLE lesions.
The neonatal LE syndrome results when infants are born to mothers who have Ro/SS-A autoantibodies in their blood during pregnancy.
* Neonatal LE skin lesions usually spontaneously disappear by six months of age.
A very small percentage of women with SCLE skin lesions are at risk for having a baby with neonatal LE or heart damage at birth (congenital heart block).

Acute Cutaneous LE (ACLE)
The most typical form of ACLE consists of flattened areas of red skin on the face that resemble a persistent sunburn.

Localized ACLE is seen when both cheeks and nose are involved. The redness can simulate the appearance of a butterfly.

Generalized ACLE is the more widespread form.
This redness can be seen on the arms, legs, and body, and often produces a rash-like appearance

ACLE lesions tend to be very photosensitive.

* They typically do not produce scarring, although skin discoloration can be seen.
* ACLE is often seen in people who have active, sometimes severe, SLE.

Skin Lesions In LE And Other Diseases
In general, this category of LE skin disease occurs in patients who also have SLE.

SLE patients may develop damage of the blood vessels in the skin called cutaneous vasculitis.

* Cutaneous vasculitis lesions typically appear as small red-purple spots and bumps on the lower legs (palpable purport).
* Occasionally, larger knots (nodules) and ulcers can develop.
* Vasculitis lesions can appear in the skin as hive-like or wheal-like lesions (urticarial vasculitis).
* The lesions also can appear as small red or purple lines or spots in the fingernail folds or on the tips or the fingers.

Hair Loss (Alopecia)
There are several forms of non-scarring hair loss which are not related to the presence of DLE of the scalp.
* SLE patients who have been severely ill with their disease may develop a temporary pattern of hair loss which is replaced by new hair growth. This condition is known as telogen effluvium.
* A severe flare of SLE can result in fragile hair that breaks easily. Such broken hairs at the edge of the scalp give a characteristic ragged appearance termed "lupus hair."

Additional Forms of Skin Disease Seen in LE as Well as Other Diseases
There are a number of other forms of skin disease in this category, such as :

calcinosis (calcium deposits in the skin),
rheumatoid nodules,
Raynaud's phenomenon, and
livedo reticularis.


Photosensitivity is a common feature of both cutaneous LE and SLE. The overwhelming majority of LE skin lesions occur on sun-exposed areas.
* Approximately 40-70 percent of people with LE will note that their cutaneous and/or systemic disease is aggravated by sun exposure.
* SCLE lesions are somewhat more likely to be worsened by sunlight exposure than DLE lesions.
* It is the sunburning ultraviolet B (UV-B) rays in sunlight that are particularly bad for LE patients.
* Longer wavelength ultraviolet A (UV-A) rays can also aggravate cutaneous LE, especially SCLE. As an example, a standard pane of window glass blocks UV-B rays but allows UV-A rays to pass through.

Sun Protection

Sun protection is extremely important for people with both cutaneous LE and SLE.

1.) Avoid prolonged periods of exposure to sunlight, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the sun is at its brightest. (Use this rule: if your shadow is as long as you are tall, it's okay to be outside).
2.) Avoid exposure to reflected sunlight around highly reflective surfaces, such as sand, water, and snow.
3.) Avoid artificial sources of ultraviolet rays, such as being near unshielded fluorescent lighting tubes.
4.) Ensure physical protection from sunlight by using wide-brimmed hats and umbrellas.

* Tightly-woven, light-weight clothing can provide significant sun protection (specially-designed sun protective clothing is available commercially).
* The regular use of broad-spectrum sunscreens with a sun protective factor (SPF) rating of at least 15 is strongly recommended.
* The broadest protection against both UV-A and UV-B is in sunscreens that contain avobenzone (Parsol 1789), titanium dioxide, and/or zinc oxide.

Treatment of LE Lesions

* Treatment of all forms of LE skin disease begins with the use of sunscreens.
* ACLE is usually treated with systemic drugs such as prednisone to suppress accompanying SLE symptoms.
* DLE and SCLE skin lesions can be treated with the application of steroid creams, ointments, gels, and solutions.
* In addition, individual lesions can be covered with steroid-impregnated tape or injected with a steroid solution.

More widespread LE skin lesions and lesions that do not respond to the above local measures can be treated with systemic antimalarial drugs such as hydroxychloroquine capsules (brand names: Plaquenil, Quineprox).

* This drug is given by mouth, alone or in combination with quinacrine capsules and/or a short burst of steroids (prednisone).
* In stubborn cases it will be necessary to substitute chloroquine (brand name: Aralen) for hydroxychloroquine.
Cutaneous LE lesions respond better to antimalarial therapy when the patient is not smoking cigarettes.

Other oral drugs that can be of benefit in resistant cutaneous LE cases include:

* retinoids
isotretinoin [Accutane]
etretinate [Tegison]
acitretin [Soriatane]
* diaminodiphenylsulfone (Dapsone)
* gold (Auronofin)
* clofazimine (Lamprene)
* thalidomide.

Occasionally, stronger immunosuppressive drugs might be required to control potentially disabling cases of LE skin disease, such as:

azathioprine (Imuran)
cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan)
Cyclosporine (Neoral).

Dealing With The Effects Of LE Lesions

* When properly blended and applied, corrective camouflage cosmetics can temporarily mask the appearance of the skin discoloration and scarring that can result from cutaneous LE lesions.

* Plastic surgery techniques to correct scarring from cutaneous LE can be somewhat risky. However, such techniques may be considered while the patient is under active treatment with drugs such as antimalarials. These will prevent the aggravation of skin disease that can occur in people with LE who also have any form of skin injury, including surgical manipulation.

For specific information regarding the treatment of various skin manifestations of LE, as well as the proper selection and use of sunscreens, consult your dermatologist or your local chapter The African-American Lupus Foundation, Inc.

The African-American Lupus Foundation, Inc.
The Lupus Foundation of America (LFA) was established in 1990 to educate and support those affected by lupus and find the cure. The AALF, Inc. supports research, education, awareness, patient services, and advocacy.

The African-American Lupus Foundation is a nationwide organization exclusively serving individuals, families and friends affected by lupus. The AALF, Inc. has local chapters and support groups throughout the United States, as well as international affiliates around the world. Contact the AALF, Inc. or the chapter that serves your area to find out how you can become involved in our mission.

Become a Lupus E-Advocate and help pass federal legislation that will benefit people with lupus. You'll receive periodic advocacy updates and other breaking lupus news and information.

For information about lupus or to locate the chapter nearest you, visit our website at www.aalfinc.org or call our information request line toll-free at (1-800-822-0206).

Approved by The African-American Lupus Foundation, Inc.
Patient Education Committee
© 2005 African-American Lupus Foundation, inc.