According to The Lupus Foundation of America, an estimated 1.5 million people live with some form of lupus in the U.S. And while 9 out of 10 adults who suffer are women of child-bearing age, men, teenagers, and children can also develop lupus.
Lupus can be a challenging and life-altering disease. However, when properly managed through medication, lifestyle changes, and support, you can help control the symptoms and flare-ups of the illness.
We put together this guide to help you navigate life with lupus.
What is lupus?
Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to attack healthy cells and tissue, leading to inflammation.
Doctors and researchers aren't exactly sure what causes lupus but believe genetics, hormones, and the environment plays a part in it.
Symptoms of lupus
The inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different parts of your body such as your joints, skin, kidneys, brain, heart, and lungs. Therefore, symptoms can vary from person to person.
The most common lupus symptoms include:
Joint pain and swelling (Arthritis)
Rashes- especially a butterfly-shaped rash that appears on the face
Sun or light sensitivity
Shortness of breath
Fingers and toes that turn blue or white from cold or stress
Headaches and dizziness
Confusion and memory loss
improve or go away, and you feel better).
Who is at risk for lupus?
Anyone at any age can develop lupus. However, some people are at a higher risk, including:
women ages 15 to 44
those with a family history of lupus or other autoimmune diseases
certain ethnic groups - African American, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander
Living with lupus
1) Know what triggers your flare-ups
Understanding what can trigger your lupus symptoms is critical to managing your illness. While lupus flares can be a result of many different things, the most common triggers are:
Stress - emotional and physical
Too much activity and not enough rest
Ultraviolet rays from the sun or a fluorescent light
An infection or illness, like a cold or flu
Stopping lupus medication
Reaction to other medications
2) Maintain a healthy diet
While there's no specific lupus diet, healthy eating can significantly impact your symptoms and overall health. A balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and a mix of healthy proteins and fats can help control symptoms and prevent other diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure.
You may need to limit certain foods if you have lupus nephritis (a kidney disease caused by lupus). Consult your doctor before making any dietary changes and if you need help making healthy food choices.
3) Get active
When you are feeling up to it, try to do some form of physical activity. Moderate exercise can help prevent muscle weakness and fatigue and lower stress and depression.
Just be sure you aren't overdoing it. Exercises such as yoga, pilates, or walking are great ways to move your body. And again, consult with your physician before starting any exercise routine.
4) Listen to your body
When you feel exhausted, give your body the rest it needs. This may mean taking mid-day naps or changing your schedule to allow for more sleep.
Ignoring your fatigue can cause you to feel even more tired for longer and worsen other lupus symptoms like depression and pain.
5) Manage stress
To successfully manage the physical symptoms of lupus, you must first manage stress in your life. Living with lupus is stressful enough. Add on other stressors life throws at you, and managing it all can seem easier said than done.
In addition to a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and being active, other ways to reduce stress when you have lupus include:
Making time to relax
Setting boundaries on things you need to do
Planning in advance
Listening to calming music
Talking to a therapist, counselor, or other mental health provider
6) See your doctor regularly
Having regular checkups is essential, whether you are experiencing flare-ups or not. Keep a list of symptoms and questions you have for your healthcare provider between appointments so you don't forget. This will also help your doctor coordinate the best treatment plan for your disease.
Always take lupus medications as prescribed, and don't stop taking any medicines without consulting your doctor first.
Lupus is a lifelong illness that can be difficult, especially during flares. But just because you have this disease doesn't mean you can't live an active and happy life. Learning how to manage your disease is critical.
Speak to your doctor about available resources and visit some online sites for support, like the ones below:
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