Lupus is an autoimmune disease with multiple forms | Health, Medicine and Fitness
Dear Doctors: I was diagnosed with inactive lupus six years ago and put on Plaquenil (chemical name hydroxychloroquine). Since lupus is an autoimmune disease, should I avoid products that can boost the immune system? Does diet play a role? I may never get rid of lupus, but I want to prevent it from getting worse.
Dear Reader: Your questions show that you have a good understanding of what you are dealing with with your lupus diagnosis.
It is true that lupus is an autoimmune disease. It refers to a condition that occurs when the immune system malfunctions and mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues. Lupus is seen most often in women, who account for 90% of diagnoses. And it usually appears during the childbearing years, between the ages of around 15 and 44.
Although the disease takes many forms, the most common is systemic lupus. This means that the immune system attacks the tissues of the skin, joints and certain internal organs, including the kidneys and the heart. It causes symptoms such as fatigue, exhaustion, fever, rash, and painful or swollen joints.
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Lupus is also chronic. It’s not going away. As with all long-term illnesses, the goal is management. This is done by taking steps to minimize symptoms, improve quality of life, and prevent unnecessary hospitalizations. For people with lupus, this includes taking immunosuppressive drugs, like the one you are currently taking; vigilant and often specialized medical care; and lifestyle changes.
Many cases of lupus are marked by alternating periods when the disease is somewhat quiet and episodes of heightened symptoms. These are known as flares. Your own diagnosis means that at this time your symptoms remain constantly mild or even absent.
Plaquenil, also known as hydroxychloroquine, is prescribed for use in inflammatory or autoimmune diseases. It works by reducing the ability of the immune system to cause inflammation. This can help relieve symptoms and reduce the occurrence of flare-ups.
Due to a rare but potentially serious complication that involves the retina, people using this medication long term are strongly advised to have a complete eye check-up every year. This is to identify any early signs of toxicity. Be sure to tell the ophthalmologist about the drug.
We think your idea of avoiding supplements or drugs that claim to boost the immune system is a good one. Your goal is to live an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. This includes engaging in regular physical activity and eating a plant-based diet low in red meat, sugar, and processed foods. Keep a close eye on sodium intake to help protect your kidneys.
Many people with lupus are sensitive to ultraviolet rays, including sunlight. For some, this can trigger a flare-up. As a result, they avoid prolonged exposure. This makes vitamin D deficiency possible. Your doctor can tell you if you are getting enough vitamin D through fortified foods and if a supplement may be needed.
Lupus flare-ups can also be triggered by stress, overwork and lack of rest, so make your mental and emotional health a priority. Yoga, meditation, tai chi, and mindfulness exercises are all helpful.
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