Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (Lupus)
People with lupus develop autoimmune antibodies that can attach to tissues throughout the body. The joints, lungs, blood cells, nerves, and kidneys are commonly affected by lupus. Treatment often requires daily oral prednisone, a steroid that reduces immune system function.
Lupus can affect almost any organ in your body. The symptoms of lupus also differ from person to person. For example, one woman with lupus may have swollen knees and fever. Another woman may be tired all the time or have kidney trouble. Someone else may have rashes. Over time, new symptoms can develop, or some signs may happen less often.
Lupus symptoms also usually come and go, meaning that you don’t have them all of the time. Lupus is a disease of flares (the symptoms worsen and you feel ill) and remissions (the symptoms improve and you feel better).
Muscle and joint pain. You may experience pain and stiffness, with or without swelling. This affects most people with lupus. Common muscle pain and swelling areas include the neck, thighs, shoulders, and upper arms.
Fever. A fever higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit affects many people with lupus. The fever is often caused by inflammation or infection. Lupus medicine can help manage and prevent fever.
Rashes. You may get rashes on any part of your body that is exposed to the sun, such as your face, arms, and hands. One common sign of lupus is a red, butterfly-shaped rash across the nose and cheeks.
Chest pain. Lupus can trigger inflammation in the lining of the lungs. This causes chest pain when breathing deeply.
Hair loss. Patchy or bald spots are common. Some medicines or infections could also cause hair loss.
Sun or light sensitivity. Most people with lupus are sensitive to light; a condition called photosensitivity. Exposure to sunlight can cause rashes, fever, fatigue, or joint pain in some people with lupus.
Kidney problems. Half of the people with lupus also have kidney problems, called lupus nephritis. Symptoms include weight gain, swollen ankles, high blood pressure, and decreased kidney function.
Mouth sores. Also called ulcers, these sores usually appear on the roof of the mouth, but can also appear in the gums, inside the cheeks, and on the lips. They may be painless, or you may have soreness or dry mouth.
Prolonged or extreme fatigue. You may feel tired or exhausted even when you get enough sleep. Fatigue can also be a warning sign of a lupus flare.
Anemia. Fatigue could be a sign of anemia, a condition that happens when your body does not have red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body.
Memory problems. Some people with lupus report problems with forgetfulness or confusion.
Blood clotting. You may have a higher risk of blood clotting. This can cause blood clots in the legs or lungs, stroke, heart attack, or repeated miscarriages.
Eye disease. You may get dry eyes, eye inflammation, and eyelid rashes.
How to Test for Lupus:
Lupus can be hard to diagnose because it has many symptoms that are often mistaken for symptoms of other diseases. Many people have lupus for a while before finding out they have it. If you have symptoms of lupus, tell your doctor right away.
No single test can tell if a person has lupus. But your doctor can find out if you have lupus in other ways, including:
Medical history. Tell your doctor about your symptoms and other problems. Keep track of your symptoms by writing them down when they happen. Also, track how long they last.
Family history of lupus or other autoimmune diseases. Tell your doctor if lupus or other autoimmune diseases run in your family.
Complete physical exam. Your doctor will look for rashes and other signs that something is wrong.
Blood and urine tests. The antinuclear antibody (ANA) test can show if your immune system is more likely to make the autoantibodies of lupus. Most people with lupus test positive for ANA. But, a positive ANA does not always mean you have lupus. If you test positive for ANA, your doctor will likely order more tests for antibodies that are specific to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
Skin or kidney biopsy. A biopsy is minor surgery to remove a sample of tissue. The tissue is then viewed under a microscope. Skin and kidney tissue looked at in this way can show signs of an autoimmune disease.
Your doctor may use any or all of these tests to make your diagnosis. They also can help your doctor rule out other diseases that can be confused with lupus.
How Can Acupuncture Help Lupus?
Even though we don’t know what key factor causes lupus, we know it is an endocrine disorder, an inherited condition, or something in the environment causing the body’s atypical autoimmune response.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, inflammation comes from too much heat in the body, or what we call “empty heat:” a lack of fluid. Without sufficient water, the body can’t control excess heat. We call this yin deficiency or kidney yin deficiency. This excessive heat condition can be triggered by external forces like excessive heat and light from the Sun or by spending a lot of time in a hot, dry space with a heater and no humidifier. This is part of what might cause the inflammation, fevers, and skin rashes associated with lupus.
Lupus nephritis, which involves the kidneys, is viewed by TCM as related to qi or yang energy deficiencies in the kidneys and spleen. Blood stasis can also be a part of the presentation. Treatment with acupuncture and herbs will often focus on removing blockages that cause stagnation of blood and qi, strengthening the kidneys, and clearing heat and toxins from the body.
Clinical trials in China have compared patients with SLE lupus treated with prednisone compared to those treated both with steroids and Chinese herbs. They found that patients receiving TCM treatment as an adjunct fared better overall and were able to reduce their use of the steroids showing that 80% of participants experienced a significant improvement in joint pain, fatigue, and skin rash after ten sessions of acupuncture treatment.
The results for patients with discoid lupus showed that lesions had improved by 87% after receiving a course of auricular acupuncture (ear acupuncture) therapy.
Reducing inflammation at its source usually means making some changes in behaviors. Lupus and other chronic illnesses like cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, etc., have so much to do with lifestyle and habits that are not conducive to optimal health. Here are just a few general anti-inflammatory habits to embrace:
Reduce or eliminate all non-necessary drugs and medications. Long-term reliance on drugs to cover up pain hampers your ability to know what is going on with your body. It also potentially damages the immune system and organs.
Reduce or eliminate foods that create more heat and acidity in the body. This includes coffee, alcohol, red meat, spicy foods, and crispy, fried foods. TCM nutrition provides precise guidelines for warming and cooling foods, so working with a qualified acupuncture professional will be very helpful to each patient.
Get adequate sleep – ideally, eight hours every night. This is when the immune system repairs itself. When people go for years, only sleeping three or four hours a night, they can do severe damage, causing massive problems like lupus to develop.
It is up to you to care for your body as if it were your most precious resource because it is. When you make your health your top priority, every decision you make about what to eat, when to sleep, and how to spend your time and energy matters. Be mindful of your own needs; don’t cover up your pain with drugs, or trash your body with junk food. Your best chance for a happy life starts with healthy habits.
Autoimmune disorders like lupus can be devastating, not only because they are physically and mentally debilitating, but because they can be so difficult for doctors to understand and treat effectively. The TCM approach to lupus is holistic and considers a person’s foundational constitution, lifestyle, and emotions, as well as looking carefully at which imbalances in the organ systems are causing the physical symptoms. Supposing you have been diagnosed with lupus or are unsure about what might be causing severe fatigue, joint pain, or skin rashes that flare up periodically. Then consider working with an experienced acupuncture practitioner may help you manage these symptoms and experience a marked improvement in your quality of life.
“Lupus Symptoms.” Center for Disease Control. Office for Women’s Health. October 17, 2018. November 18, 2021. < https://www.cdc.gov/lupus/basics/symptoms.htm>.
This content is provided by Office on Women’s Health
Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D. “How to Treat Lupus with Acupuncture and TCM.” Art of Wellness. Website. November 19, 2021. < https://myartofwellness.com/how-to-treat-lupus-with-acupuncture-and-tcm/>
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