Although reversing lupus itself is perhaps too lofty a goal – at least for now – secondary diseases that commonly develop in conjunction with lupus, such as osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, will not necessarily leave the patient permanently incapacitated. Current advances in medical treatments mean doctors have many types of tools to combat and even undo damage caused by secondary (also called “overlap”) conditions.
Osteoporosis can develop for several different reasons, but when it appears together with lupus, it is usually the result of long-term corticosteroid use. Steroids like Prednisone are prescribed to halt the autoimmune antibody attacks on healthy tissue, but they interfere with the natural process by which the body re-grows lost bone cells, leaving the bones weak and brittle. Lupus antibodies may also attack bone cells directly. And the fatigue that many lupus patients experience can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, which also weakens bone structure and leads to bone loss.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is considered an autoimmune deficiency disease in its own right, but it is also part of a group of overlap conditions known as “mixed tissue diseases” which cause inflammation and damage to the joints. Lupus itself can cause joint damage, but intermittently, as lupus attacks flare and enter remission; such flares are generally very painful. RA, on the other hand, is not as painful – but inflammation and swelling are always present and are likely to cause permanent deformities. Any sort of joint pain and inflammation is treated (in traditional medicine) with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs such as aspirin, and with immunosuppressive drugs to combat the autoantibody attacks. Unfortunately, these immunosuppresants also tend to be steroid-based, and may therefore contribute to bone degeneration in the joints even as they interfere with immune system activity.
Complimentary Alternative Medicine & Preventative Care
Complimentary Alternative Medicine (CAM) is based on the principle of cooperation between medical disciplines. CAM practitioners design treatment plans that work with traditional medical techniques (allopathy) so that the patient receives the best possible care. In the CAM treatment model, vitamins, herbal supplements and manipulation therapies such as chiropractic, massage and acupuncture are used to ease symptoms and strengthen the body, in the belief that preventative care protects against further illness and damage.
Osteoporosis damage can be treated simply by adding more calcium to the diet, and using weight-bearing exercise to strengthen the bones. Vitamin D is also beneficial for bone health – and is currently under study as a treatment for lupus. Exercise is also potent medicine for Rheumatoid Arthritis, particularly stretching. Physical therapy routines for RA can include applications of heat or cold, and also assisted stretches or soft splints to keep the affected areas of the body flexible and functional. In extreme cases, surgery can correct severe RA deformity. CAM supplements can sometimes be administered along with prescription medications. One such supplement, DHEA, acts as an immune-booster and anti-inflammatory and with further study, may prove to be an alternative to immunosuppressants, one with fewer and milder side effects.
The body’s ability to heal depends on its current state of health. Reversing lupus – or any overlap diseases – in a patient with detrimental habits (such as smoking) that cause additional damage to the body, is far more difficult than reversing symptoms in a person invested in good self-care. The severity of the disease itself is also a factor. But a healthy diet, regular exercise, quality rest and the right combination of treatment techniques can do plenty to relieve symptoms and keep the body in the best possible condition.