Some people call lupus a disease with 1,000 faces. That’s because lupus is a complicated and multifaceted disease. There are a number of different types of lupus, a wide variety of symptoms, and each person who suffers from it experiences lupus differently.
The first thing to know about lupus is that it’s an autoimmune disease, in which your immune system has trouble distinguishing between friend and foe. Your immune system works to seek out and destroy the foreign invaders in your body, such as bacteria and viruses. However sometimes it becomes confused and begins to attack normal tissue and healthy organs. Lupus is just one of a large number of autoimmune diseases that also include rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis (MS), and Crohn’s disease.
There are several types of lupus. The most common is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which is the most severe type, because it can affect your body’s internal organs. SLE affects your entire body, with symptoms that can be mild to severe. Other types of lupus include discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE), which affects your skin; subacute lupus, which causes skin lesions when you’re exposed to the sun; and lupus that occurs as a reaction to certain prescription medications. It’s also possible for a baby to be born with lupus if their mother has lupus, however this type of neonatal lupus is rare.
Lupus, especially SLE, is associated with a large number of symptoms, most of which are caused by inflammation and tissue damage. Typically symptoms will swing between flare-ups and remissions, and include:
- Joint pain and swelling
- Skin rashes, most notably a butterfly-shaped rash across your cheeks and nose
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Swollen and tender lymph nodes and glands
- Ulcers or lesions in your mouth
- Sensitivity to the sun
- Chest tightness or pain
- Hair loss
- Raynaud’s symptoms, which include pale, purple, or cold fingers and toes
As SLE progresses, it may cause damage to your kidneys, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. It can also cause changes in your blood, including anemia, decreased white blood cells, and a decrease in platelets, which are necessary for clotting. Lupus may also be associated with neurological symptoms, such as dizziness, memory problems, seizures, vision changes, or stroke.
Risk factors for developing lupus include your sex, age, genetics, and environment. Women are nine times more likely than men to develop this disease, and it is most commonly diagnosed during the childbearing years, giving rise to the theory that there may be a hormonal association with lupus. Genetics may also play a role, in that your risk of developing lupus is higher if someone in your family has it. Lupus is also more common in populations that are Indigenous, Black and/or People of Colour. Environmental risks include smoking, certain medications, exposure to sunlight, and for some people a viral infection may trigger symptoms.
Like other autoimmune diseases, there’s no cure for lupus, however flare-ups, symptoms, and organ damage can be managed through a combination of strategies. Western medications may be prescribed to reduce pain, regulate the immune system, balance hormones, and reduce tissue damage.
Natural therapies play an important role in managing lupus, too. At BodaHealth, we have found that acupuncture can be helpful to reduce the inflammation associated with this condition. It can also be a good choice to relieve pain, reduce fatigue, and promote better immune function. While a greater body of research is needed, early studies on treating lupus with acupuncture has found that it can help reduce pain in lupus patients. In addition, acupuncture can help resolve hormonal imbalances and relieve stress, both of which may be triggers for lupus flare-ups.
At BodaHealth, we’ve found that herbal medicine and good nutrition can also help our patients who have lupus. Herbal medicine works by targeting the underlying cause of specific symptoms, and it supports the efficacy of your acupuncture treatments. We also may prescribe nutritional supplements or dietary changes to resolve any nutritional deficiencies or food intolerances that may be promoting inflammation or symptom flares.
At BodaHealth, our goal in treating patients with lupus is to help control flare-ups, reduce inflammation, strengthen your immune function, and relieve any symptoms you may currently be having. Our practitioners are highly trained and committed to providing you with effective treatment strategies, so that you can live the active and healthy life you deserve. If you or someone you know struggles with lupus, contact us for more information on how we can help.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.