Toxic Fatigue

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Thanks to the blog “Purple Thoughts” for this entry. I have read it before and it is well worth printing here. Hope it educates and explains it better than I can.

 

THE TOXIC FATIGUE OF LUPUS

BY GLORIA ROSENTHAL

Almost all lupus patients have heard the phrase “But you don’t look sick” and we cringe inside, knowing the speaker’s words do not convey the speaker’s true meaning: “You can’t be so sick if you look so well”.

The fatigue that comes with lupus elicits the same reaction. Try to explain the feeling to a friend and the response is often “I get tired, too”. I want to pounce on those words and say “tired? You get tired? I want to screech that the fatigue that comes with lupus is as unrelated to a “tired” feeling as a hang nail is to a broken arm. Calling toxic fatigue a tired feeling is like saying a major flood is a minor trickle of water.

So let’s talk, first about what lupus fatigue is NOT. It is not a tired feeling. It’s not a “want to take a nap” feeling. It’s not a “lazy day, think I’ll take it easy” feeling. It’s not a “wish I didn’t have to do this” feeling. What it is: is a full-body exhaustion that makes you feel as if you have no bones, that if you didn’t have skin wrapped around your body, you would melt down into nothingness like the Wicked Witch of the West. Or that you are a melting candle, except a candle has a wick and there is nothing in your body that feels that solid. On the other hand, your bones can feel so heavy that lifting your arms to wash your hair in the shower is a chore akin to a weightlifter hefting a 200 pound barbell. His task is easier, though, because as soon as he puts the barbell down, he’s through. But after you’ve soaped your hair, you have to rinse it. That means those bone-weary, heavy arms must be raised again and after the shower, these “barbells” must be toted around all day long for they cannot be discarded like the weight-lifters toys.

Eating too, is an exhausting habit, especially restaurant dining. There must be something in the atmosphere and a three course meal that makes the lupus body say. “Hey hold on there, why are you lifting a fork so many times?” or “You broke off one piece of roll and now you want to exert that physical activity again for another piece?”

Am I exaggerating? Of course, but just enough to get a point across, a point that the fatigue that accompanies lupus is not like any other feeling. It is indescribable, but I know that as these words are read by my fellow lupoids, heads will bob up and down in instant recognition, though that frantic activity (head bobbing) will create yet another bout of exhaustion.

How do I handle this extreme exhaustion? If I’m home, I get into bed when it hits though the toxic feeling that accompanies the fatigue makes me think that once I do that, I will never be able to get up again. However, experience tells me I will come out of it and will feel better when I do. I never refer to this melting away as a nap; it’s my afternoon “coma” and my husband tells me it is almost impossible to wake me. If he must do so, it some times takes ten minutes of gentle shaking (and maybe one minute of bulldozing tactics).

If I’m not at home when it hits, and I push through it from sheer will, it will be with me for the rest of the day. Even if I give in to it later, even if I crawl into bed after it has been with me for hours, I will not shake it. Years of dealing with it has taught me why this is so: the fatigue that comes with lupus hits hard and wants to be pampered but it knows, better than I do, just how much coddling it needs. If I bow to it, I’ll revive. If I don’t, the fatigue shakes its finger in my face and says “Okay kid, you asked for it; now it’s the rest of the day for you”. And so for the rest of that day, I am that wicked witch, that melting candle, that weightlifter. I try to work around it. I tell my good friends they have to pick up for lunch out. If I drive to them in the morning, later, with fatigue as my passenger, I will have a foot that’s too weak to depress a brake and arms not strong enough to turn a wheel. Some people understand, some never will. Perhaps this will help the ordinary fatigued person see that there is nothing ordinary about lupus exhaustion. I’m glad I’m finished here, because my body is warning me that a bout is coming and I’d better be going. My bed looks inviting and my fatigue will thank me for “putting it there” by giving me a few good hours later on.

Reprinted from News & Views Number 45 – March 1995 Lupus UK.

European Lupus Erythematosus Federation

For a print friendly version click here  THE TOXIC FATIGUE OF LUPUS

Common symptoms of Lupus

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I got this list from the lfa webite. It is important to note that this is the tool doctors use to decide if lupus may be the answer. Please read and learn. Thanks! j

 

Common Symptoms of Lupus

To help the doctors diagnose lupus, a list of 11 common criteria, or measures, was developed by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR). ACR is a professional association of rheumatologists. These are the doctors who specialize in treating diseases of the joints and muscles, like lupus. If you have at least four of the criteria on the list, either at the present time or at some time in the past, there is a strong chance that you have lupus.

  1. Malar rash – a rash over the cheeks and nose, often in the shape of a butterfly
  2. Discoid rash – a rash that appears as red, raised, disk-shaped patches
  3. Photosensitivity – a reaction to sun or light that causes a skin rash to appear or get worse
  4. Oral ulcers – sores appearing in the mouth
  5. Arthritis – joint pain and swelling of two or more joints in which the bones around the joints do not become destroyed
  6. Serositis – inflammation of the lining around the lungs (pleuritis) or inflammation of the lining around the heart that causes chest pain which is worse with deep breathing (pericarditis)
  7. Kidney disorder – persistent protein or cellular casts in the urine
  8. Neurological disorder – seizures or psychosis
  9. Blood disorder – anemia (low red blood cell count), leukopenia (low white blood cell count), lymphopenia (low level of specific white blood cells), or thrombocytopenia (low platelet count)
  10. Immunologic disorder – abnormal anti-double-stranded DNA or anti-Sm, positive antiphospholipid antibodies
  11. Abnormal antinuclear antibody (ANA)

People with lupus also may experience symptoms that do not appear among the ACR criteria:

  • fever (over 100° F)
  • extreme fatigue
  • hair loss
  • fingers turning white and/or blue when cold (Raynaud’s phenomenon)

What is Lupus?

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This is from the Lupus Foundation of America’s web page. You can read more at www.lfa.org.

What is Lupus

Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body (skin, joints, and/or organs inside the body). Chronic means that the signs and symptoms tend to last longer than six weeks and often for many years. In lupus, something goes wrong with your immune system, which is the part of the body that fights off viruses, bacteria, and germs (“foreign invaders,” like the flu). Normally our immune system produces proteins called antibodies that protect the body from these invaders. Autoimmune means your immune system cannot tell the difference between these foreign invaders and your body’s healthy tissues (“auto” means “self”) and creates autoantibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue. These autoantibodies cause inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body.

  • Lupus is also a disease of flares (the symptoms worsen and you feel ill) and remissions (the symptoms improve and you feel better). Lupus can range from mild to life-threatening and should always be treated by a doctor. With good medical care, most people with lupus can lead a full life.
  • Lupus is not contagious, not even through sexual contact. You cannot “catch” lupus from someone or “give” lupus to someone.
  • Lupus is not like or related to cancer. Cancer is a condition of malignant, abnormal tissues that grow rapidly and spread into surrounding tissues. Lupus is an autoimmune disease, as described above.
  • Lupus is not like or related to HIV (Human Immune Deficiency Virus) or AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). In HIV or AIDS the immune system is underactive; in lupus, the immune system is overactive.
  • Our research estimates that at least 1.5 million Americans have lupus. The actual number may be higher; however, there have been no large-scale studies to show the actual number of people in the U.S. living with lupus.
  • It is believed that 5 million people throughout the world have a form of lupus.
  • Lupus strikes mostly women of childbearing age (15-44). However, men, children, and teenagers develop lupus, too.
  • Women of color are 2-3 times more likely to develop lupus.
  • People of all races and ethnic groups can develop lupus.
  • More than 16,000 new cases of lupus are reported annually across the country.

Things To Avoid if You Have Lupus

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I am posting this link here because it concerns those of us with lupus. However, I would like to add that while this list is good advice for most people with lupus, some of these things may not impact all lupus patients. The disease is known for manifesting itself in a multitude of ways in each person. In other words, what harms one person may not harm another or cause a flare. So, please read this article from Johns Hopkins and discuss it with your doctor. Enjoy!

Things to Avoid

If you have lupus or  a condition that predisposes you to lupus, such as undifferentiated connective tissue disease (UCTD), there are certain foods and medications that you should avoid. The substances listed below have shown to induce lupus signs and flares and should be avoided by people with lupus or autoimmune diseases suggesting “pre-lupus.”

(1)    Sunlight

People with lupus should avoid the sun, since sunlight can cause rashes and flares. Some people are more sensitive to sunlight than others, but all people with lupus are advised to be cautious when they are outside. Of course, it would be impractical to completely avoid going outdoors, but try to be prepared. Carry a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 70 and be sure that your sunscreen contains Helioplex, an ingredient that blocks UV-A and UV-B rays, both of which are harmful to people with lupus. Apply sunscreen to all areas of the body, even those covered by your clothes, since most normal clothing items only protect your skin to the level of SPF 5. In addition, carry a hat with you when you know you will be outside. Certain sportswear manufacturers now make hats with SPF built into the material, which may be helpful for people with greater photosensitivity.

(2)    Bactrim and Septra (sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim)

Bactrim and Septra are antibiotics that contain sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim. They are grouped as “sulfa” antibiotics because they contain a substance called sulfonamide. Bactrim and Septra are often prescribed for bacterial infections, especially urinary tract infections. They are also sometimes given prophylactically (i.e., to prevent infection), especially in people taking immunosuppressive medications. However, it is very important that you avoid Bactrim and Septra, because these antibiotics are known to cause an increase in sun sensitivity and lower blood counts in people with lupus, resulting in lupus flares. Several medications can be used instead of Bactim or Septra for the prevention and treatment of infection; perhaps the most frequently used substitute is Dapsone (diaminodiphenyl sulfone) to prevent Pneumocystis pneumonia.

(3)    Garlic

Scientists believe that three substancs in garlic—allicin, ajoene, and thiosulfinates—rev-up your immune system by enhancing the activity of white blood cells, particularly macrophages and lymphocytes. Scientists also believe that the sulfur components of garlic help to prevent and suppress cancer in the body. For this reason, garlic is often used as a supplement to combat colds and infections. Unfortunately, the enhancement of immune response is counterproductive in people with autoimmune disease such as lupus, because their immune system is already overactive. As a result, people with lupus and lupus-like signs should avoid cooking with garlic and adding it to food. Of course, a tiny amount of the herb will not harm you, but try to consciously avoid purchasing and preparing foods with garlic.

(4)    Alfalfa Sprouts

Alfalfa sprouts contain an amino acid called L-canavanine that can increase inflammation in people with lupus by stimulating the immune system. As a result, people with lupus and similar autoimmune conditions should avoid alfalfa sprouts completely.

(5)    Melatonin and Rozerem (ramelteon)

Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in your brain that regulates other hormones in the body that control how your body reacts to daily patterns of light and dark. Melatonin release is suppressed during the light hours of the day and stimulated by dark, helping you stick to patterns of nighttime sleep and daytime wakefulness. As a result, melatonin is often used as a sleep aid over other medications. Melatonin and melatonin-containing supplements should be avoided in people with lupus and other autoimmune disorders because they may stimulate the immune system. In addition, people with these conditions should also avoid the prescription sleep aid Rozerem (ramelteon), because it mimics melatonin in the body. It is important that you understand the necessity of avoiding both melatonin and Rozerem, since sleep aids are often used to help people with fibromylagia and other conditions to attain normal sleep patterns. In general, be sure that you speak with your physician before taking any new medications or supplements.

(6)    Echinacea

Echinacea is often used as a dietary supplement to boost the immune system against colds and other illnesses. However, because Echinacea boosts your immune system, it may cause flares in people with autoimmune diseases such as lupus. In fact, Echinacea supplements sold in Europe bear warning labels that advise against use by people with autoimmune diseases. As a result, people with lupus and other autoimmune diseases should avoid these supplements. In general, it is important that you speak with your physician before taking any new medications or supplements.

http://www.hopkinslupus.org/lupus-info/lifestyle-additional-information/avoid/

Medical Terminology 101

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This is a repeat of this post. I thought it maight be worthy of reading again.

Lingo or Medspeak

As someone who comes from a medical professional background (nursing), I had to learn how to medspeak, or the language of medicine with its roots of latin and long unpronounceable words in nursing school. Since my diagnosis, I have found this knowledge to be an asset to understanding what is going on and the variances of the disease. I have also found that many others have been forced to learn the lingo or medspeak upon their diagnosis as well.

When you are diagnosed with a chronic, incurable disease, the first thing many do is look it up online. This can be good or bad. There may be a lot of information out there, some good and some bad, some not important, some important. Some of the information will scare you to death if you read it. For example, when I was first diagnosed with lupus, one of the first things I read was that the life expectancy was ten years. I should point out that I passed the ten year mark about 9 years ago. Unfortunately, that information is still out there and some may stumble upon it and freak out.

With medical diagnoses and prognosis changing every day, it is no surprise that many people are confused by what they find. I think I would recommend if you are researching your diagnosis, start with the national organization in your country. Most times, they have the most current, accurate information available. Once you have waded through the goldmine of information you find there, give it time to digest and process in your mind.

Another great source is to join a support group in your area. You can find out if there are any by once again checking your national organization’s website or calling your local hospitals and asking. Many times, your doctor may even know of any support groups as well.

One of the best ways to investigate the medical lingo is to take it word for word. When you happen on a word you do not understand, stop and look that one word up individually and then try to make sense of it as a whole. Put it in perspective with the sentence. If there is a sticking point, write it down and ask your doctor. Better safe than sorry.

On the whole, always remember that unless it is from an “official” website, it may not be as accurate as it could be. Caution is to be exercised above all and always consult your physician as well.

Fibromyalgia Basics Overview

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Since the beast of fibromyalgia has reared its ugly head in my body recently, I decided to review the basic facts of fibromyalgia (fm). I always feel that knowledge is more powerful than ignorance so in my quest for the information, I found this website which has a great description of the basic information of fm. I got this from the website www.prohealth.com. You can find more information there. Here is their article:

What is Fibromyalgia?


Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic pain disorder characterized by widespread pain, fatigue and sleep disturbances. It was originally thought to be a musculoskeletal disorder since most of the pain was felt in the muscles and other soft tissues. However, recent research and the advancement of brain-imaging technology is revealing that fibromyalgia is actually a disorder of the central nervous system, which causes abnormal pain processing and results in pain amplification.

Fibromyalgia Symptoms


The three primary symptoms that are common to almost everyone with fibromyalgia are pain, fatigue and sleep disorders.

Pain: Pain is usually the most prominent symptom of fibromyalgia. FM pain is chronic and widespread, affecting all four quadrants of the body, although not necessarily at the same time. Its intensity may range from mild to profound. FM pain tends to migrate, sometimes affecting one part of the body and sometimes another. Patients also report that their bodies ache all over, much like having the flu. In addition to the aching, FM pain has been described by different people as burning, throbbing, sharp, stabbing or shooting pain. Most people with FM also complain of feeling stiff and achy when they wake up.

Fatigue: While everyone knows what it feels like to be tired, the fatigue experienced by fibromyalgia patients is so much more. It’s a pervasive, all-encompassing exhaustion that can interfere with even the most basic and simple daily activities. Another feature of FM fatigue is that it is not relieved by rest.

Sleep Disorders: Most people with fibromyalgia have problems with sleep. They report having difficulty getting to sleep, waking up frequently throughout the night, and not feeling refreshed when they get up in the morning. Studies have shown that FM patients spend little to no time in deep, stage four sleep because their sleep is repeatedly interrupted by bursts of awake-like brain activity. Since deep sleep is the time during which the body replenishes itself, fibromyalgia patients are not able to get the restorative sleep their bodies need. In turn, this lack of deep sleep can result in making their pain and fatigue worse.

Other Symptoms: Most fibromyalgia patients also report a number of other symptoms and overlapping conditions, which may include allergies, irritable bowel, irritable bladder, headaches, migraines, dizziness, numbness and tingling, sensitivity to cold or heat, depression, restless legs syndrome, chemical or environmental sensitivities, impaired balance or coordination, dry eyes and mouth, vision problems, or problems with memory, concentration and cognitive functioning.

(For more information about specific symptoms, see “Common Symptoms“)

Who is at Risk for Developing Fibromyalgia?


Adult women appear to be at greater risk for developing fibromyalgia than men or children, however, it can affect all ages and both sexes. Historically, 75 to 90 percent of people diagnosed with FM have been women, but new information may eventually change those figures.

FM experts are finding that men often have fewer than the traditional 11 tender points required for diagnosis, yet meet all the other criteria for fibromyalgia. And what was once thought to be “growing pains” in children may turn out to be a previously unrecognized form of FM.

Although fibromyalgia will probably still occur most frequently in adult women, we may soon discover it affects significantly more men and children than once thought.

Another risk factor may be family history, as there is growing evidence of a genetic component in fibromyalgia. If someone in your family has FM, you may be at greater risk of developing it yourself.

How is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?


Fibromyalgia (FM) should be diagnosed by a qualified physician who is familiar with the illness and has experience diagnosing and treating it. In 1990, the American College of Rheumatology established the research criteria for fibromyalgia, which are now the criteria most commonly used to diagnose it.

For a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, both of the following must be present:

  • A history of widespread pain in all four quadrants of the body for a minimum duration of three months, and
  • Pain in at least 11 of 18 designated tender points when four kilograms (about 10 pounds) of pressure are applied.

According to the American College of Rheumatology fibromyalgia is not a diagnosis of exclusion. However, there are several other illnesses that have similar symptoms, so it is important that the doctor test for certain comorbid conditions as well. Which particular tests may be necessary will depend upon the individual patient’s symptoms and medical history.

Fibromyalgia Causes


In the past few years scientists have made tremendous progress unraveling the mysteries of fibromyalgia. Although there is still some disagreement as to the cause of FM, there is little disagreement that its onset is usually triggered by some form of trauma. The trauma may be physical, in the form of an injury or illness, or it could be an emotional trauma that produces severe, prolonged stress.

Current research seems to indicate that some people have a genetic predisposition to fibromyalgia, although the symptoms usually do not show up until triggered by one of these traumas.

One popular theory as to the cause of fibromyalgia is that a trauma or significant stressor turns on an individual’s “fight-or-flight” response. This response, designed to help us function in an emergency situation, usually only lasts a short time, then turns itself off.

But when the stress becomes prolonged, the fight-or-flight response gets stuck in the “on” position and the person’s body remains in a state of high alert. Being in a constant state of high alert puts even more stress on the body. This results in, among other things, a loss of deep, restorative sleep, which in turn causes pain amplification throughout the body.

Regardless of what initially triggers the illness, research has shown that fibromyalgia patients have very real physical abnormalities, including:

  • Decreased blood flow to specific areas of the brain, particularly the thalamus region, which may help explain the pain sensitivity and cognitive functioning problems fibromyalgia patients experience.
  • High levels of “substance P,” a central nervous system neurotransmitter involved in pain processing.
  • Low levels of nerve growth factor.
  • Low levels of somatomedin C, a hormone that promotes bone and muscle growth.
  • Low levels of several neurochemicals: serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and cortisol.
  • Low levels of phosphocreatine and adenosine, muscle-cell chemicals.

Treatment


Since the cause of fibromyalgia remains a mystery, most treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and improving quality of life. Most patients find that a multi-disciplined approach using a combination of  prescription medications, alternative/complementary therapies, gentle exercise and lifestyle adaptations seems to work best.

Unfortunately, finding which medications, therapies, etc. work best for a particular patient is generally a matter of trial and error. What helps one patient may not help another. It’s important that the patient, doctor and other healthcare professionals work together as a team to develop an individualized treatment plan.

(For more information about different treatment options, see”Treatment Modalities.” )

Choosing a Doctor


If you have a primary care physician with whom you’ve established a good rapport, discuss your concerns regarding fibromyalgia. Chances are she has other patients with the same illness, but if not, provide her with information you’ve found helpful. She may or may not remain the gatekeeper in your care, but she should be able to help you find a physician who is familiar with fibromyalgia and able to help you.

In the past, rheumatologists were the specialists who diagnosed and treated fibromyalgia. However, since research is indicating that FM is most likely a central nervous system problem, some rheumatologists are no longer taking FM patients. Check with the rheumatologists in your area to see if they will treat fibromyalgia. Logically, if FM is a central nervous system issue, neurologists would be the specialists that should treat it. Unfortunately, most neurologists are reluctant to add fibromyalgia to their practices. A few, however, have jumped on board. Again, check with the neurologists in your area to see if they will treat FM.

If your doctor is not knowledgeable about FM and is not able to recommend someone, your best resource for finding a doctor who is knowledgeable about fibromyalgia in your area is probably a local support group. (Check ProHealth’s Support Group Listing to find a group near you. ) FM message boards are also a good place to ask if anyone knows of a good doctor in your area. (Visit ProHealth’s FM message board.)

Talking with family and friends may shed some light on your search as well. Hearing of a physician with compassion, one who spends time with patients and listens, goes far when making a decision. Overall, you want to find a physician who is committed to learning as much as she can about the condition so she can provide you with the best possible care.

Do a little research on the doctors you are considering. First, check with your insurance carrier to find out which health care providers are covered by your plan. If there aren’t any suitable doctors in your plan, inquire about out-of-network coverage and charges. Next, check out the doctor’s medical credentials and whether there have been any malpractice suits or disciplinary actions against her. Below are just a few resources to help you begin your research:

  • American Medical Association’s Doctor Finder includes physician profiling information such as medical school, training and specialty.
  • The American Board of Medical Specialties will tell you if your doctor is board certified and in what specialties. “Board certified” means the doctor has completed two additional years of training and passed a national examination. “Board eligible” means the training, but not the test, has been completed.
  • Contact your state’s Board of Medical Examiners to find out about any history of malpractice suits.
  • Find out how other patients feel about a doctor you are considering. There are several Web sites, like RateMDs.com where patients rate their doctors. This particular site covers doctors and dentists in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and India.

As with any chronic illness, navigating your way within the medical world will require you to be your own advocate. This means being proactive about your care, staying informed, and being organized about your needs during each appointment. This is not an easy road, and balancing the medical, insurance and care aspects of your health is going to require clarity and work on your part.

Related Conditions


Seldom is fibromyalgia a solitary illness. Most FM patients have one or more comorbid (related) conditions. Which came first is one of those chicken and egg questions.

Why do people with FM usually have so many other disorders? The answer to that may be found in a new paradigm proposed several years ago by Dr. Muhammad Yunus. He suggests that many of these related illnesses could be classified as Central Sensitivity Syndromes.  Basically, this means that the central nervous system becomes hypersensitive, which stresses the rest of the body and can eventually lead to any number of different disorders. (See “Are Fibromyalgia and Other Chronic Conditions Associated?” for more information on Central Sensitivity Syndrome.)

Some of the related conditions that fibromyalgia patients may have include:

  • Allergies
  • Migraine disease
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Lupus
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
  • Chiari malformation
  • Intermittent cervical cord compression
  • Cervical stenosis
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica
  • Sleep apnea
  • Raynaud’s syndrome
  • Sjogren’s disease
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Depression
  • Osteoporosis
  • Multiple chemical sensitivity
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Interstitial Cystitis
  • Gulf War Syndrome

Overlapping of Diseases In Lupus Patients

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I must say that I have done this subject in a previous post but I found new information on a different website and thought I would share it here. It makes for interesting reading. The article cites Daniel Wallace, MD, who is one of the most widely read doctors when it comes to lupus. I hope you learn more by reading this article. It comes from www.hopkinslupus.org.

Signs, Symptoms, and Co-occuring Conditions

Lupus affects everyone differently, but certain signs and symptoms are common. [A sign is medical evidence your doctor finds during a physical exam, such as a specific rash; a symptom is a subjective indication of disease, such as joint stiffness or a headache.] In addition, other conditions, such as fibromyalgia, occur commonly in people with lupus but are not directly due to disease activity. These co-occuring conditions are known to doctors as “comorbidities.” Several signs, symptoms, and comorbidites of lupus are detailed below.

Fever

The average human body temperature is around 98.5°F, but many people run just above or below that mark. A temperature of 101°F is generally accepted as a fever. Many people with lupus experience reoccurring, low-grade temperatures that do not reach 101°. Such low-grade temperatures may signal oncoming illness or an approaching lupus flare. Fever can also signal inflammation or infection, so it is important to be aware of the patterns of your body and notify your physician of anything unusual.

Joint Stiffness

Many lupus patients experience joint stiffness, especially in the morning. People often find that taking warm showers helps to relieve this problem. If this habit does not offer comfort and joint stiffness prevents you from daily activity, be sure to speak with your doctor. He/she will examine you for any signs of joint swelling and can speak with you about medications that may ease some of this pain and inflammation, such as over-the-counter pain treatments and NSAIDs. Tenderness of a joint in known as arthralgia, and it is important that your doctor distinguish this from the arthritis (true swelling) that may accompany lupus.

If you experience a fever lasting a few days or fevers that come and go over the course of a few days, you should take your temperature twice daily and keep a record. Certain trends may alert your doctor to specific processes occurring in your body. In addition, a fever of 101°F or more should be given medical attention. If you are taking steroid medications such as prednisone, be alert for any sign of infection, since steroids can suppress your immune system while also masking symptoms of infection. Immunosuppressive medications such as azathioprine, methotrexate, cyclophosphamide, and mycophenolate also suppress the immune system, so if you begin to feel ill when taking one of these medications, notify your doctor immediately.

Weight Changes

Weight Loss

Increased lupus activity can sometimes cause weight loss, and certain medications can cause loss of appetite. No matter what the cause of your weight loss, you should speak to your doctor to ensure that the loss does not indicate a more serious condition. If you experience a loss of appetite due to your medications, your doctor may suggest alternative medications or solutions to ease stomach discomfort.

Weight Gain

Other medications, such as corticosteroids, can cause weight gain. Therefore, it is very important that you speak to your doctor about maintaining a balanced diet while taking these medications. You may need to reduce your calorie consumption; your physician can refer you to a nutrition counselor if needed. Light to moderate exercise can also help you to maintain a healthy weight and cardiovascular system, while also boosting your mood.

Please remember that it is very easy to gain weight, especially when taking steroids, but it is much more difficult to lose it. It is very important that you try to achieve a healthy weight, because women with lupus between the ages of 35 and 44 are fifty times more likely to experience a heart attack than the average woman. In addition, maintaining a healthy weight helps to alleviate stress on your joints and keeps your organs working productively and efficiently.

Fatigue and Malaise

Ninety percent of people with lupus will experience general fatigue and malaise at some point during the course of the disease. Some people find a short 1 ½ hour afternoon nap to be effective in reducing fatigue. However, exceeding this time frame might lead to problems sleeping at night. If you feel that you are tired throughout most of the day and that fatigue prevents you from engaging in daily activities, speak to your doctor. Fatigue accompanied by pain at certain parts of your body may be a sign of a treatable condition called fibromyalgia. Other fatigue-inducing conditions, such as anemia, low thyroid, and depression, can also be treated. If you and your doctor decide that your malaise is due solely to lupus, try to stay as active and mobile as possible during your daily routine. Often this can be difficult, but many people find that slightly pushing themselves to engage in light to moderate exercise actually increases their energy levels. However, you should never push yourself beyond reasonable discomfort.

Sjogren’s Syndrome

As many as 10% of people with lupus may experience a condition called Sjogren’s syndrome, a chronic autoimmune disorder in which the glands that produce tears and saliva do not function correctly. Sjogren’s can also affect people who do not have lupus. People with Sjogren’s often experience dryness of the eyes, mouth, and vagina. They may also feel a gritty or sandy sensation in their eyes, especially in the morning. This dryness occurs because the immune system has begun to attack the moisture-producing glands of the eyes and mouth (the lacrimal and parotid glands, respectively), resulting in decreased tears and saliva.

It is important that you speak to your doctor if you experience dryness of the eyes and mouth, since the medications for these conditions must be taken on a regular basis to prevent discomfort and permanent scarring (especially of the tear glands). The Schirmer’s test is usually performed to check for Sjogren’s and involves placing a small piece of litmus paper under the eyelid. Eye symptoms can be relieved by frequent use of Artificial Tears, and an eyedrop medication called Restasis is often used to prevent worsening of Sjogren’s. Evoxac (or pilocarpine) can be used to increase both tear and saliva production, and certain lozenges (Numoisyn) can also be helpful for dry mouth.

Depression

Depression and anxiety are present in almost one third of all people with lupus. Clinical depression is different than the passing pangs of sadness that can haunt all of us from time to time. Rather, clinical depression is a prolonged, unpleasant, and disabling condition. The hallmark characteristics of depression are feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, general sadness, and a loss of interest in daily activities. Depression also often involves crying spells, changes in appetite, nonrestful sleep, loss of self-esteem, inability to concentrate, decreased interest in the outside world, memory problems, and indecision. In addition, people who are depressed may suffer from certain physiologic signs, such as headache, palpitations, loss of sexual drive, indigestion, and cramping. Patients are considered to be clinically depressed when they experience symptoms that last for several weeks and are enough to disrupt their daily lives. Patients suffering from depression also often experience a general slowing and clouding of mental functions, such as memory, concentration, and problem-solving abilities. This phenomenon is sometimes described as a “fog.” The cause of depression is not known; sometimes a genetic component predisposes an individual to the condition. Depression is almost never due to active lupus in the brain.

While clinical depression can be caused by the emotional drain of coping with a chronic medical condition and the sacrifices and adjustments that are required of the disease, it can also be induced by steroid medications (e.g., prednisone) and other physiological factors. It is important that you speak with your doctor if you feel you are experiencing clinical depression, because many people who are physically ill respond well to anti-depressant medications. In addition, your doctor may treat your depression in different ways depending on the cause.

Gastrointestinal Problems

Many people with lupus suffer from gastrointestinal problems, especially heartburn caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Peptic ulcers can also occur, often due to certain medications used in lupus treatment, including NSAIDs and steroids. Occasional heartburn or acid indigestion can be treated with an over-the-counter antacid, such as Rolaids, Maalox, Mylanta, or Tums. Your doctor may also include an antacid or another form of GI medication (a proton-pump inhibitor, histamine2 blocker, or promotility agent) in your treatment regimen. Antacids are effective when used to treat occasional symptoms, but you should try to avoid heartburn and acid indigestion altogether by eating smaller meals, remaining upright after eating, and cutting down on caffeine. If heartburn and acid reflux persist (e.g., for more than two weeks), you should speak with your doctor, because your heartburn symptoms could indicate a larger problem.

Thyroid Problems

The thyroid is the gland in your neck associated with your metabolism—the processes by which your body makes use of energy. Autoimmune thyroid disease is common in lupus. It is believed that about 6% of people with lupus have hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and about 1% have hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). A thyroid gland that is functioning improperly can affect the function of organs such as the brain, heart, kidneys, liver, and skin. Hypothyroidism can cause weight gain, fatigue, depression, moodiness, and dry hair and skin. Hyperthyroidism can cause weight loss, heart palpitations, tremors, heat intolerance, and eventually lead to osteoporosis. Treatment for both underactive and overactive thyroid involves getting your body’s metabolism back to the normal rate. Hypothyroidism is usually treated with thyroid hormone replacement therapy. Hyperthyroidism is treated with anti-thyroid medications or radioactive iodine.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis (bone thinning) occurs when the bones lose calcium and other minerals that help keep them strong and compact. This condition can lead to fractures, bone pain, and shorter stature. Everyone is at risk for osteoporosis as they age, but women experience a greater risk of the condition after menopause. Studies have shown that people with lupus are at an increased risk for osteoporosis due to both the inflammation they experience with the disease and the use of prednisone.

Your bones are constantly being remodeled in a process that removes old bone cells and deposits new ones. In people with osteoporosis, the bones lose minerals faster than they can be regenerated. Medications called bisphosphonates (e.g., Actonel, Fosamax, Boniva, and Reclast) can be taken to help prevent your bones from losing calcium and other minerals by slowing or stopping the natural processes that dissolve bone tissue. In doing this, bisphosphonates help your bones remain strong and intact. If you have already developed osteoporosis, these medications may slow the thinning of your bones and help prevent bone fractures. In fact, studies have shown that bisphosphonates can lower your risk of fractured vertebrae—bone segments that make up your spine—by 50%. Similar studies demonstrate that these medications can lower the chance of breaking other bones by 30-49%. However, when bisphosphonates are not successful, patients may need a daily injection of parathyroid hormone (Forteo) to build bone.

Sources

  • Wallace, Daniel J. The Lupus Book: A Guide for Patients and Their Families. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.