About 1.5 million people in the U.S. suffer from lupus, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). 90% of those who develop lupus are young women of age 15-44. In people under the age of 18 and over the age of 50, the prevalence of lupus between men and women is the same. Furthermore, African-American women are three times more likely than Caucasian women to develop lupus. Asian-American women and Latina women are twice as likely to develop lupus as Caucasian women.
Lupus is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system goes awry and attacks the body. Lupus can affect the brain, kidneys, joints, skin, as well as other organs.
What causes lupus?
The exact cause of lupus remains unknown. Because the majority of those with lupus are women, the female hormone, estrogen, has been implicated in lupus development. Often, lupus symptoms are more severe prior to a woman’s menstrual period or during pregnancy, when the levels of estrogen are elevated. However, a causal link between estrogen and lupus has not been demonstrated.
Here are some factors that may play a role in the development of lupus:
- Genetic Predisposition: People with a family history of lupus or other autoimmune disorders may have a genetic predisposition to develop lupus. Certain genetic variations can increase susceptibility to the disease.
- Environmental Triggers: (1) Infections: Viral or bacterial infections can trigger lupus or exacerbate its symptoms in susceptible individuals. (2) Environmental Toxins: Exposure to certain environmental toxins, chemicals, or pollutants might contribute to the development of lupus or its flares.
- Hormonal Factors: Hormones, particularly estrogen, seem to play a role in lupus, as it predominantly affects women of childbearing age. Hormonal fluctuations may trigger or exacerbate lupus symptoms.
- Immune System Dysfunction: Lupus is primarily an autoimmune disorder where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues, causing inflammation and damage. The exact reason behind this immune system dysfunction is still under investigation.
- Epigenetic Changes: Changes in gene expression due to environmental factors without altering the underlying DNA sequence (epigenetic changes) may influence the development of lupus.
- Medications: Some medications, like certain blood pressure drugs and medications used to treat heart conditions, can trigger drug-induced lupus in susceptible individuals. However, this form of lupus typically resolves after discontinuing the medication.
Symptoms of lupus
As with other autoimmune conditions, the symptoms of lupus may flare up during periods of active disease when the immune reaction is strongest. Symptoms commonly include pain and swelling of the joints of the knees, wrists, hands, and fingers. A characteristic butterfly rash on the face is seen in about half of all lupus patients, which is exacerbated with exposure to sunlight.
Other symptoms may vary by individual and can include chest pain, fever, fatigue, hair loss, sores in the mouth, and light sensitivity. If the brain is affected, a person with lupus may experience headaches, numbness and tingling, irregular vision, and seizures. Abdominal pain and vomiting can occur when the gastrointestinal tract is affected. Lupus can also affect the heart, lungs, kidneys, and skin. In these cases, lupus can cause arrhythmia, difficulty breathing or coughing up blood, patchy skin, leg swelling and weight gain.
Conventional treatment for lupus includes anti-inflammatory medications, steroids, and immune suppression. At Cascade Integrative Medicine, all of our patients are co-managed with rheumatologists. Our approach to lupus involves supporting different organ systems including the kidneys, cardiovascular system, pulmonary system, skin, and endocrine systems. Many lupus patients have severely depressed hormone levels due to the sustained production of inflammatory cytokines, which suppresses hormone synthesis. We aim to optimize the immune system, adrenal function, thyroid, sex, and pancreatic hormones, as well modulate cytokines through individualized nutrition, therapeutic fasting, and nutrient supplementation. Hydrotherapy and mind-body medicine may also be appropriate for patients to restore health and vitality.