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January 18, 2018  |  Login
 
Lupus
 
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder, in which antibodies mistakenly identify the body's tissues as foreign substances and attack them, causing inflammation and pain. The disease most often strikes women in their childbearing years; only 10 percent of people with lupus are men. For reasons that are as yet unknown, African American women are three times more likely to receive a diagnosis than are their Caucasian counterparts, and American women of Asian or Hispanic descent are also more susceptible. Lupus is a rare condition, but, as with other autoimmune disorders, the number of incidents has been on the rise in recent years.

Lupus takes two related but quite distinct forms: discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). In DLE, the only symptom is a scaly red rash that spreads across the cheeks and the nose, and sometimes the forehead and the scalp. We tend to think of this rash as butterfly-shaped, but in a different era, the pattern reminded doctors of a wolf's face-hence the name lupus, which means "wolf" in Latin. The red patches usually come and go in cycles, but sometimes they leave disfiguring scars. Scars that occur on the scalp may prevent hair from growing in the area they cover. DLE can be distressing, but it does not pose a serious health threat. Since the rash is often triggered by exposure to sunlight, the most effective treatment is to remain inside during peak daylight hours and to shade the face and the head when outdoors.

Sufferers of SLE may also experience a rash, and their disease, like DLE, goes through periods of remission and activation, but the similarity between the two disorders stops there. Systemic lupus, as the name implies, affects not just the skin but the entire body. The process that produces the red rash spreads to the joints and the muscles, creating pain and inflammation very similar to that of rheumatoid arthritis. People with SLE suffer from frequent low-grade fevers that may spike when the disease cycle is at its peak. Not surprisingly, the fever and the pain leave their victims exhausted and sometimes depressed. For some people, the symptoms never progress beyond this point. In other cases, the inflammation spreads to the kidneys, the liver, the heart, or the spleen, creating dangerous and even life-threatening problems.

No one knows the exact cause of lupus. Conventional medicine focuses on factors that often trigger flare-ups; certain medications, viral and bacterial illnesses, birth-control pills, pregnancy, and periods of extreme stress are all suspects, but it is likely that there is no single culprit. Holistic doctors such as ourselves take a close look at other factors; when these are addressed, it can be quite helpful to people with this disease. The factors include food allergies, hormone balance, digestive function ("leaky gut syndrome") and detoxification, heavy metal toxicity, and nutritional deficiencies.

Earlier in this century, lupus was fatal within a few years of its onset. Now almost all people with lupus live out a normal lifespan, provided that they and their doctors monitor the symptoms and control any threatening developments. Today, quality of life is the most pressing issue for the majority of lupus sufferers. Although some people experience very little inflammation and pain, others are nearly crippled by it. Doctors can help ease the worst flare-ups with medications for pain control and antibody suppression, but it's best to try to avoid the need for aggressive measures. An anti-inflammatory diet, adequate rest and stress control, and specific natural treatments can all help you to reduce the chance of flare-ups and minimize the symptoms when they do occur.

 
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