Dr. Crisostomo Baliog, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, said systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect various parts of the body including the skin, blood, joints, kidneys, lungs and heart.
“SLE is an autoimmune disease,” said Dr. Baliog, who serves as a rheumatologist at USA. “When the immune system is working normally, it kills germs and bad cells. An autoimmune response occurs when the immune system starts to attack healthy cells as well.”
According to Dr. Baliog, SLE develops and manifests differently over time. It can be mild or life-threatening and manifests differently in different people. Patients often have “flares” of worsening symptoms and have “remissions” when symptoms improve.
Signs and symptoms of SLE include:
• Feeling very tired or weak
• Losing or gaining weight
• Rashes on the face and sun exposed areas
• Mouth ulcers
• Hair loss
• Chest pain
• Trouble breathing
• Bruising easily
• Joint pain and stiffness
• Cold fingers or toes that turn pale or blue
Ninety percent of people with SLE are female and most develop lupus between the ages of 18 and 35.
According to Dr. Baliog, SLE tends to run in families. “The initial risk is inherited from the parents and then develops into the disease when exposed to a trigger such as sun, infection, stress, or pregnancy,” he said.
SLE can also affect other organs. Lupus nephritis – which affects the kidney – is the most common cause of morbidity in SLE, occurring in 30 percent of SLE patients.
The disease can also affect the nervous system. When this occurs, patients might notice symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, confusion/memory loss, seizures, and pain in the hands or feet.
“In addition, lupus patients are at high risk of developing premature cardiovascular disease so it is important for them to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly,” Dr. Baliog said. “Patients should also try to avoid direct sun exposure, infection, and stress.”
According to Dr. Baliog, the exact cause of SLE is unknown. Medications for lupus – such as prednisone, plaquenil, and benlysta – are available.
Dr. Baliog is accepting new patients. To make an appointment, call 251-470-5890.
Dr. Baliog recently gave an overview of lupus at the March Med School Café lecture. To view the lecture in its entirety, click here. For more information about lupus visit www.lupus.org.