Nine out of ten lupus patients are women. The disease takes many forms and its symptoms vary considerably from one individual to another. As well as women, other populations particularly affected are West Indians and African-Americans’.
With its vast array of symptoms, diagnosing this rare disease is still complicated. It is possible nowadays to live normally and reduce the risk of complications thanks to the correct use of the treatments available.
An autoimmune disease with multiple forms
Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system malfunctions, attacks the cells of the body and destroys them. There are several types of lupus:
– Disseminated lupus erythematosus: this is the most common form. It can affect many parts of the body, including the skin, joints, lungs, kidneys…
– Discoid lupus erythematosus: it essentially affects the skin but can progress to systemic lupus.
– Drug-induced lupus erythematosus: it is linked to the chronic use of certain medications (antibiotics, treatment for immune-inflammatory diseases, etc.) but disappears when they are no longer taken.
– Neonatal lupus: this is a rare form that occurs in babies of women who have lupus (see boxed text).
Lupus is characterised by symptomatic flares interspersed with periods of remission. Flares often manifest with moderate but prolonged fever, fatigue and lack of appetite.
This may be accompanied by highly varied symptoms such as pain, swollen joints or vision problems.
Stress, overwork and sun exposure can trigger these flares which vary greatly from one individual to another in their type and duration.
Causes still poorly understood
With the exception of drug-induced lupus, the reasons behind the development of the disease remain unknown.
Together with genetic factors, environmental factors (stress, overwork, sun exposure) and hormonal factors could play a major role. Pregnancy and birth can also be triggers.
LUPUS AND PREGNANCY
Pregnancy is no longer contraindicated in lupus patients, as it was before. Fertility is not affected and the risk of transmission remains very low. However, reinforced perinatal monitoring is required and some medications may be contraindicated. Followed by a specialist, the pregnancy of a woman with lupus can proceed normally.
Choosing the right treatment
It is possible to attenuate flares and avoid complications thanks to early management, preventive measures and the right treatment.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are used in mild flares to relieve joint pain.
Steroids – through their anti-inflammatory action – control symptoms when multiple organs are affected.
They are sometimes used in the form of topical treatments to treat skin rashes. Finally, anti-malarial drugs are recommended in all patients, with exceptions, to regulate the activity of the immune system so that it stops attacking its own tissues.
Immunosuppressants and biological therapies are reserved for the most severe cases.
Recent years have seen considerable progress in the management of lupus thanks to increase in knowledge.
Major research efforts are ongoing to discover new drugs which could restore correct immune system function. However, the heterogeneous nature of this disease makes clinical trials complex to perform. Here at Servier we are firmly committed to meeting this major medical need with two compounds under development in systemic lupus erythematosus.
See your doctor regularlyIts vast array of symptoms makes lupus difficult to diagnose. Seeking medical advice when the first signs appear means that the right treatment can be initiated.
Follow your treatmentWith early management and the right treatment, it is possible to live well with lupus, attenuate flares and prevent complications.
Talk it overLupus remains poorly understood and a factor of apprehension. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to have a pregnancy when you have lupus. Getting information and talking it over can reassure you!