What Is Lupus and What Is Not Lupus?


Is Lupus Contagious?

Lupus is not contagious in any form. As an autoimmune disease, it is intrinsic to a person’s immune system and cannot be spread through physical contact.

People with lupus are often unable to donate blood due to their medications, but even if someone were to receive blood with lupus-related autoantibodies theoretically, they would likely only have a mild, temporary reaction as their body neutralized them.

Is Lupus Fatal?

Lupus is capable of killing, but it is not necessarily fatal. In the 1950s, before many modern medical treatments for lupus, people suffering from SLE were expected to live less than five years after their diagnosis.

Today, up to 90 percent of people with lupus will have a normal lifespan if they are diligent about their medical care and treatment. Many lupus related fatalities stem from people who were unable to accept or cope with their diagnosis and therefore avoided treatment for an extended period of time.

While odds have improved significantly, there is still an overall lower life expectancy for people with SLE. Men, children, and people of color are more likely to suffer serious, potentially fatal lupus complications.

Is There a Cure for Lupus?

There is no cure for lupus, but medical research continues to uncover new and promising treatments. Determining the cause of lupus would likely be one of the first steps towards finding a cure.

Options are expanding for lupus patients, and many treatments are tailored to specific lupus manifestations. People who make the most of medical treatments and lifestyle changes may be able to achieve remission and live with very few symptoms.

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Understanding Lupus Symptoms

The symptoms of lupus are wide-ranging and often mimic other diseases, making diagnosis difficult in many cases. Furthermore, the symptoms will vary according to how lupus is affecting the body.

These are some of the many symptoms of lupus:

  • Malar rash (a red, butterfly-shaped rash across the face)
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cognitive impairments (headaches, confusion, memory loss)
  • Photosensitivity (skin rashes or lesions after sun exposure)
  • Chest pain (pleurisy)
  • Pain, stiffness, and swelling in joints
  • Muscle pain
  • White or blue extremities when cold (Raynaud’s phenomenon)
  • Hair loss
  • Dry eyes
  • Ulcers in the mouth or nose
  • Appetite loss
  • Nausea

How Is Lupus Diagnosed?

Receiving a lupus diagnosis is often a long, difficult process. In my case, it took three years of experiencing symptoms and visits to three different doctors before I was diagnosed with lupus, but it’s common for people to wait up to five years or even longer.

The diagnosis process will begin with a full medical history, a physical exam, various laboratory tests, specialist visits, and skin or kidney biopsies.

Usually, blood is drawn and analyzed for the levels of white and red blood and platelets, hemoglobin (a protein in red blood cells), inflammation markers, and antinuclear antibodies in the blood, as these may have abnormal results in people with lupus. Blood tests can also reveal problems within the kidneys or liver.

Urine samples are collected to look for protein or red blood cells in the urine, which could indicate kidney involvement.

Imaging tests such as x-rays or echocardiogram are used if inflammation is suspected in the heart or lungs.

Skin and kidney biopsies are taken on an as-needed basis after a physical exam or lab results that indicate potential issues.

Next page: how is lupus diagnosed? contd. And how does lupus affect the body?

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