Q: I went to my doctor several weeks ago because of a persistent rash on my face. He said the results of some blood test showed that I have lupus. My husband and I would like to know more about this disease.
A: Lupus may show up in two forms. One form is a rather benign disorder limited to coin-shaped lesions of the skin. Because the second type of lupus may involve many organs throughout the body, it is called systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE. Skin lesions are also frequent in SLE; they usually occur on areas exposed to sunlight.
Certain laboratory tests can determine whether lupus is confined to the skin or systemic. The fact that your doctor based his diagnosis on blood tests suggests you have SLE.
SLE generally begins between the ages of 20 and 40 and affects women almost 10 times more often than men. Its cause is unknown but SLE is regarded as an autoimmune disorder in which antibodies are produced against the body's own tissues.
The symptoms of SLE vary widelyfrom one individual to another. Besides skin lesions, there may be fever, poor appetite, weight loss, chronic fatigue, swollen joints, shortness of breath (if lungs or heart are involved), high blood pressure and fluid retention, loss of scalp hair, and pain and color changes in the extremities when exposed to cold (Raynaud's phenomenon). SLE affects the central nervous system in one third of patients, most commonly leading to convulsions, inability to concentrate, impaired memory and mood swings. SLE can not be cured, but medications can control many ofits manifestations.
For more information about lupus call (301) 366-7272 to contact the Maryland Lupus Foundation, Inc. which sponsors educational programs and support groups.
Dr. Margolis is professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and associate dean for faculty affairs at the school.