Can I have children if I have Lupus - Dr. Yogesh Preet Singh
Helping Your Loved One with Lupus Stay Well
Learn some tips to help your loved one with this autoimmune disease keep active and stay on course with treatment.
By Jennifer Bright Reich
Medically Reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH
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Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease, meaning it causes the immune system to go haywire and attack the body’s own cells. It affects approximately 1.5 million Americans, mostly women. Lupus can lead to many different symptoms, but some occur more often than others:
- 95 percent of people with lupus experience joint aches
- 90 percent have frequent fevers
- 90 percent have swollen joints
- 81 percent report profound fatigue
- 74 percent have skin rashes
- 71 percent have anemia
Less common are kidney problems, heart disease, sun sensitivity, and hair loss.
Since lupus is such an unpredictable condition that causes many diverse symptoms, it is critical that people with lupus actively work to maintain their overall health.
As Robert W. Hoffman, DO, chief of rheumatology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida, points out, in an ideal world people with lupus would “do the same things we all should do: eat right, exercise, and minimize stress.” Nevertheless, Dr. Hoffman acknowledges that “when you’re sick, those things aren’t easy to do, so it’s helpful if [a] caregiver can encourage them.”
Lupus: Helping With the Essentials
Here’s how you can help your loved one with lupus stay on top of her health:
Keep up with check-ups.“Generally, a person with lupus sees a rheumatologist, but because lupus can affect any part of the body, the rheumatologist may need to reach to other specialists such as a cardiologist, neurologist, nephrologist, or a high-risk obstetrician for pregnant women with lupus,” says Dawn E. Isherwood, RN, health educator for the Lupus Foundation of America. “Also, if you’re taking the antimalarial drug [Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine)], it’s critical to have an eye exam every six months to watch out for rare, but serious, retinal problems,” Isherwood adds.
“It’s important for people with lupus to receive regular check-ups instead of just seeing a doctor when symptoms flare,” Isherwood also notes. “A caregiver can be encouraging in making and keeping these appointments. When you’re getting regular care, the doctor can spot changes and identify and treat flares quickly. This is important because if the inflammation that is causing symptoms is allowed to remain, it can cause scarring and permanent damage.”
- Eat well.“There’s no specific lupus diet, but because women with lupus have a 10-fold greater risk of coronary artery disease than women without lupus, it’s a great idea to eat a heart healthy diet,” recommends Isherwood. (You can learn more about eating heart-healthy in the Everyday Health Heart Health Center). “Also, if you have heart or kidney issues, your doctor might recommend a special diet, such as a low-sodium diet.”
- Try a supplement.Experts sometimes advise people with lupus to take a daily vitamin and mineral supplement to help stave off osteoporosis, since many lupus medications can weaken bones. Some also recommend an omega-3 supplement to help protect against heart disease. Talk to your loved one’s doctors about whether she would benefit from supplements.
- Exercise.“Exercise is always welcome for people with lupus because it increases cardiovascular fitness and helps the lungs and joints,” says Daniel Rosler, MD, a rheumatologist at the Milwaukee Rheumatology Center in Wisconsin. Encourage your loved one to get up and get moving whenever possible.
“The amount of exercise someone with lupus can do will depend on how she’s affected by the condition,” Isherwood points out. “In general, exercise that doesn’t pound the joints is beneficial. Swimming or exercising in a pool is great. Yoga is particularly helpful because it’s easy on the joints and it stretches out the body and promotes a sense of well being. Even squeezing a rubber ball to work your finger joints can be good,” she advises.
Ironically, people with lupus often get caught up in a cycle of being too tired to exercise, and then being tired because theyaren'texercising.
“In addition to fatigue, another obstacle to exercise for people with lupus is that many patients are photosensitive, meaning exposure to the sun can make their symptoms worse,” Isherwood says. “If that’s the case for your loved one with lupus, encourage her to exercise indoors at a gym or walk at a mall,” recommends Isherwood. You can also consider specialty exercise DVD’s such as “Right Moves for Lupus” (which you can order through the ).
Lupus Management: Other Strategies
There are other basic things to be aware of as a lupus caregiver as well. You can help your loved one:
- Maintain energy.“People with lupus often have a lot of fatigue,” says Dr. Rosler. “Encourage your loved one to take frequent naps and try to rest whenever possible.” “Another challenge is that when a person with lupus has a good day, she tries to do it all,” adds Isherwood. “But if you try to do it all today, you’ll pay for it tomorrow. As a caregiver, encourage the person with lupus to pace herself.”
- Quit smoking.If your loved one smokes, encourage her to quit, urges Hoffman. “It is known that cardiovascular disease is one of the main causes of death in people with lupus, and smoking dramatically increases this risk.”
If you have a loved one with lupus, respect that person's independence but actively encourage her to take good care of herself so that she can continue to lead a vibrant and productive life.
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