It's not easy to recognize lupus right away. Lupus symptoms mimic those of other diseases -- and the symptoms vary from one person to another.
Before a diagnosis of lupus is given, your health care provider will attempt to rule out other conditions, including other connective-tissue diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis), an infection, and cancer. Tests your health care provider may perform include:
Amanda Greene, 43, stashes a tube of sunscreen in her purse and car so that she can reapply it throughout the day -- as frequently as some women touch up their makeup. Using sun protection is second nature for Greene, who was diagnosed with lupus (SLE) at 15 and is photosensitive.
"I use it from head to toe 365 days a year, whether it's gray or sunny," says Greene, a Los Angeles lupus advocate. "Some women reapply lipstick -- I reapply my SPF. It's part of living with lupus."
Women who have lupus...
A test for levels of immune substances called C3 and C4 complement. C3 and C4 are often low in people with active lupus.
A test for anti-DNA antibodies. This shows whether your immune system is attacking the genetic material of normal cells. The anti-DNA antibody test is usually only abnormal in people with lupus.
A urinalysis, to test whether lupus may be affecting your kidneys.
What Is the Treatment for Lupus?
Lupus is unpredictable and thus difficult to control, but close self-monitoring and proper treatment usually helps. People with lupus are often treated by doctors who are specialists in rheumatology. There are a number of treatment options now available:
For people with mild disease, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or Advil, or Motrin, can help relieve joint pain.
A short course of corticosteroids, sometimes called simply "steroids," reduces inflammation and is recommended for flare-ups.
People with active, autoantibody-positive lupus may benefit from Benlysta in addition to standard drug therapy. The drug targets a protein involved in B cell development and reduces the number of abnormal B cells thought to be a problem in lupus. B cells are responsible for making the autoantibodies that cause lupus.
Mild skin rashes can be treated with over-the-counter corticosteroid creams. Some rashes may require prescription steroid creams, steroid injections, or drugs such as hydroxychloroquine.
Antidepressants and mild anti-anxiety drugs can help with the sleeping problems that frequently accompany lupus.
Cyclophosphamide or mycophenylate, drugs that suppress the immune system, may be used for severe cases of lupus that cause kidney damage or affect the brain.
Proper nutrition is important for people with lupus. People with lupus should follow a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. Processed foods should be kept to a minimum. Fatty, deep-water fish -- such as sardines, salmon, tuna, mackerel, and trout -- or fish oil capsules may lessen joint pain. Talk to a nutritionist to create a personalized eating plan.
Rest eases the fatigue of lupus. But it's just as important to get appropriate exercise. Exercise increases muscle strength, eases joint stiffness, helps control weight, and helps in the prevention of bone loss. It also reduces stress and improves your outlook on life. Walking and swimming are often good choices for people with lupus. Work with your doctor to create a fitness program well suited to your needs and abilities.