Some consider lupus erythematosus to be one of the world’s cruelest, most unpredictable, and devastating diseases. The symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening and always require attention by a doctor.
At least 1.5 million Americans have lupus, though that number could be higher, as there are 16,000 new reported cases each year. It usually directs its vengeance towards women of childbearing age, though men and younger girls can develop it, too. Most people will notice the disease between the ages of 15-44, and women of color are two to three times more likely to develop lupus than Caucasians.
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, an estimated 80-90% of people living with lupus can live a normal lifespan with treatment and followup.
What Is Lupus?
Systemic Lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune disease. The immune system is your body’s protector, fighting off foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, and other germs. With lupus, something goes wrong with the immune system and it cannot tell the difference between real foreign invaders, and your body’s normal tissues. So it creates autoantibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue.
These autoantibodies cause inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body. It can damage any part of the body including the skin, joints, and other organs. It’s chronic, meaning symptoms last longer than six weeks, and usually many years.
What Causes Lupus?
Doctors aren’t exactly sure what causes lupus, though they believe it’s the result of a combination of many underlying factors including:
- Environment: potential triggers like smoking, stress, and exposure to toxins like silica dust
- Hormones: studies suggest increased estrogen levels could contribute
- Medications: long term use of some medications (hydralazine, procainamide, and quinidine) have been linked with drug-induced SLE.
- Genetics: family history of lupus could put you at higher risk
- Infections: doctors are studying links between causes of SLE and cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr, and hepatitis C
Symptoms of Lupus
Symptoms can vary, depending on what part of the body is affected. They can appear suddenly sometimes and stay permanently, or just flare up occasionally. The most common signs and symptoms include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Body aches
- Painful or swollen joints
- Swelling in feet, legs, hands, or around eyes (edema)
- Rashes, including a butterfly rash (malar rash) on the face
- Skin lesions that may include ulcers
- Shortness of breath
- Chronic dry eyes
- Chest pain (pleurisy)
- Sun or light sensitivity
- Hair loss
- Abnormal blood clotting
- Change in color or fingers and toes when cold (Raynaud’s)
- Mouth or nose ulcers
- Memory loss
- Kidney problems (later in the disease process)
Inflammation of the kidneys (nephritis) causes problems like high blood pressure, dark urine, and blood in the urine (hematuria).
A wide array of skin and mucous membrane symptoms that range from rashes to ulcers may appear. Often, people with lupus are seen with a butterfly-shaped rash on the face that crosses from cheek to cheek over the nose. Rashes may appear to get worse with sun exposure.
How Does Lupus Affect the Skin?
You may have skin lupus with or without having full blown SLE.
The butterfly rash on the face may be just a faint blush or a very severe, scaly rash. Other lesions may be coin-shaped sores (discoid lupus).
You may develop red, scaly patches or a red, ring-shaped rash, especially where your skin gets sun or other UV light. The sores get worse without treatment. They don’t typically itch or hurt, but can cause scarring and if on your scalp, will cause patches of permanent baldness.
Small, red, coin-shaped areas (subacute cutaneous lesions) are caused by UV rays, too. They’ll probably appear on your arms, shoulders, neck or upper torso in patches. They can darken or lighten the skin where they appear.
Other changes in your skin may also show up in your mouth, scalp, lower legs, and fingers. Other signs of lupus may include:
- Mucous membrane lesions
- Hair loss
- Purplish spots on lower legs
- Color changes in fingers and toes
- Bluish, lacy pattern under the skin
How to Treat Lupus Skin Lesions
There currently is no cure for lupus, though there are some animal studies that show early promise that lupus may be curable. If you have it, you’re likely to have skin issues at some point, but treatment can bring relief.
Often, your doctor will develop a treatment plan involving a number of options to:
- Reduce inflammation
- Suppress your overactive immune system
- Prevent flares, and treat them when they occur
- Control symptoms like pain
- Minimize damage to organs
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Protect your skin from the sun’s UV rays by avoiding the sun when you can, covering as much of your skin as possible, and protecting any exposed skin with sunscreen all year long, no matter the weather.
Your doctor may prescribe a topical medication like a steroid cream or gel to clear up the problems. In some cases, a steroid shot may be used.
A new cosmeceutical may be able to impart additional comfort and relieve the cutaneous inflammation associated with the rashes and lesions. DELTA-5 by Sciaessentials is a revolutionary oil pressed from a specially-studied conifer seed and contains the powerful ingredient, sciadonic acid (SA). SA has been proven to alleviate inflammation, aid in repairing the skin’s barrier function, and provide comfort.
This organic oil is easily-absorbed and can be applied directly onto problem areas or mixed with your cream, gel, or makeup base.