Lupus Care and Treatment
Why Choose Treatment for Lupus at University of Colorado Hospital?
Lupus is a complex autoimmune disorder. People who suffer from it can exhibit a wide range of symptoms that are best treated by an integrated team of specialists.
Through the expertise of internationally known specialists in rheumatology, dermatology, nephrology, neurology, cardiology, pulmonary medicine, endocrinology, hematology, orthopedics, obstetrics and psychology, University of Colorado Hospital provides just that kind of comprehensive care.
These lupus specialists work together in one site and have access to the most advanced technology to provide integrated management of the complex problems experienced by people with lupus. In addition, these specialized physicians are actively studying the causes of lupus and testing new treatments to identify which are the most effective in fighting it.
The University of Colorado is also a site for a National Institutes of Health Cooperative Study Group for Autoimmune Disease Prevention (CSGADP), a collaborative network of investigators who focus on prevention of autoimmune diseases such as lupus.
What is Lupus?
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, or lupus for short) is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and can damage joints, skin, blood vessels and internal organs. In autoimmune disorders, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues. Lupus can cause the following types of symptoms:
- Joint and muscle pain
- Skin rashes
- Extreme fatigue
Lupus affects people of all ages and races, but it affects women, usually during their childbearing years, more often than men. Lupus can cause symptoms that range from mild to severe and that can vary greatly among different individuals, depending on which organs or tissues are involved. Severe complications of lupus include:
- Marked decreases in blood cell counts
- Kidney damage or failure
- Heart failure
- Strokes or seizures
- Blood clots
- Loss of pregnancy (miscarriage)
- Inflammation of blood vessels throughout the body
The cause of lupus is unknown.
Patient Education About Lupus
Living with Lupus
The majority of people who are diagnosed with lupus live a very normal life. Symptoms of lupus range from mild to severe, and there are a wide variety of medications that can treat symptoms.
Learning to recognize a lupus flare (when symptoms of lupus worsen) is one way to manage the disease. Many people experience fatigue, pain, a rash, hair loss, chest pain, shortness of breath or swelling of the ankles and legs during a flare. Early treatment can often prevent the development of more serious problems.
Taking care of yourself by getting regular medical exams, eating a healthy diet and engaging in relaxation techniques are other steps that you can take to help manage the disease. Stress and infections can worsen the severity of lupus. Lifestyle changes that may alleviate stress in your life and help you avoid infection are recommended.
Getting a Second Opinion about Lupus
People who suffer from lupus may choose to seek additional medical advice from another doctor or specialist. The rheumatologists who practice at University of Colorado Hospital are available to see patients for a second opinion when requested by a patient’s current physician.
Lupus Support Groups
The Lupus Foundation of Colorado
The Lupus Foundation of America
Additional Lupus Research
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
American College of Rheumatology
Lupus Research Institute
Alliance for Lupus Research
Tests and Treatments
Testing for Lupus
In order to diagnose lupus, a doctor will review your medical history, do a physical exam, and may order special laboratory or radiology tests. Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because symptoms vary widely and many symptoms of lupus are similar to symptoms of other types of diseases.
There is no cure for lupus, but treatments can help reduce symptoms such as pain and inflammation, which can result in long-term damage if untreated. Treatment for lupus will vary depending on your specific condition.
Various medications may be prescribed for you, including the following:
Anti-Inflammatory Drugs. These medications help reduce inflammation associated with lupus. They are the most commonly prescribed drugs for the treatment of lupus. They include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, as well as corticosteroids, such as prednisone.
Anti-Malarial Drugs. These medications can help treat skin rashes, fatigue, and lupus arthritis and generally have minimal side effects. Hydroxychloroquine is the most commonly prescribed drug in this class.
Immunosuppressive Drugs. These medications are prescribed for people with more severe symptoms of lupus and can have more side effects. They help treat lupus by suppressing the immune responses that can cause damage to normal cells and tissues in patients with lupus. Examples of these medications include azathioprine, mycophenolate mofetil, and cyclophosphamide.
Biologics. These medications are targeted to specific cell types or chemical pathways in the autoimmune processes involved in lupus. Therefore, they have the potential to have fewer side effects than other treatments, although for the most part, their use in lupus is still under investigation. These include treatments that deplete specific immune cells, those that interrupt the normal interactions between immune cells, and those that block the function of specific factors involved in inflammation.
Your Medical Team
Because of the complex nature lupus and its potential effect on many systems in your body, a multidisciplinary team of health care providers may join in your treatment.
- Rheumatologist – A doctor qualified and specialized in the treatment of arthritis and autoimmune diseases. They are the main specialists who treat patients with lupus.
- Nephrologist – A doctor who specializes in the treatment of disorders of the kidneys.
- Dermatologist – A doctor who specializes in the treatment of diseases involving the skin.
- Hematologist – A doctor who specializes in the treatment of diseases that affect the blood cells.
- Neurologist – A doctor who specializes in the treatment of diseases affecting the brain, muscles, or nerves.
- Cardiologist – A doctor who specializes in the treatment of diseases affecting the heart.
- Pulmonologist – A doctor who specializes in the treatment of diseases affecting the lungs.
- Endocrinologist – A doctor who specializes in the treatment of diseases of the glands that make hormones.
- Orthopedist – A doctor who specialized in the surgical treatment of bone and joint diseases.
- Obstetrician – A doctor who specializes in the management of pregnancies, including those that may be high risk because of underlying medical problems like lupus.
- Radiologist – A doctor that specializes in evaluating patients through the use of X-rays, CT, MRI and other imaging techniques.
Other Lupus Staff
- Psychologist – Professionals who specialize in disorders in the normal function of the human mind, including problems with memory, concentration, and emotion.
- Physical therapist – Professionals who work with individuals to improve their physical function, including joint mobility and function and muscle strength.
- Social worker – Professionals who assist with finding resources for people, including transportation, medications, and employment.
- Nutritionist – Professionals who advise people on appropriate diet to improve health, enhance nutrition, and facilitate their response to treatment of underlying diseases.
- Occupational therapist – Professionals who work with people with disabilities to enable them to maximize their skills and function better in their daily lives.
Current research involves identifying genes and environmental factors that may be involved in the development of lupus, so that new methods to treat or prevent lupus can be developed. Blood and urine markers that will allow better monitoring of lupus disease activity are also being actively studied. The basis for neuropsychiatric disease in lupus is being explored using imaging studies and autoantibody testing. Clinical trials include projects that investigate new biologic agents developed to treat multiple autoimmune diseases, including lupus.