Marshall doctor draws attention to lupus symptoms

MARSHALL — There are 1.5 million Americans who suffer from lupus, and 5 million worldwide, yet only a small percentage of people actually know anything about the chronic disease.

The most common type of lupus is systemic lupus erythematosus (S.L.E). It can cause inflammation almost anywhere in the human body. A person may only have some of the symptoms, such as those involving the skin and joints, or they may have inflammation of joints, lungs, kidneys, liver, blood, organs (including brain) and/or other tissues. There may be periods of remission with few or no symptoms, and there may also be “flares” when the disease gets more active.

May is Lupus Awareness Month and Dr. Julijana Botic with Avera Medical Group-Marshall shared the symptoms of S.L.E.

“They can include fatigue, fever, hair loss, rash, pulmonary problems, kidney problems, not just swollen joints (and others previously mentioned),” Botic said. “Every patient is different. Severity can vary, too, from mild to very severe to life threatening.”

Anybody can get it, but women of childbearing age are at higher risk, she said.

Botic said another problem with the symptoms is that they overlap with similar chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Lyme disease.

Special blood tests have to be conducted in order to determine which disease it is in order to best treat it.

“Often when we get patients with symptoms that are the same as these other diseases, we perform tests like an antibodies test and doubled-strand DNA,” she said. “For Lyme disease, we will also be looking to find the particular bacteria that caused it.”

Treatments are most effective when the disease is caught early on, Botic said.

“They are highly-individualized and depend on the patient,” she said. “Frequently, treatment involves anti-malarial drugs, like hydro chloroquine sulfate, or steroids like Prednisone, and sometimes DMARDS (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs), Ibuprofen or aspirin can also be used to relieve inflammation and pain.”

Botic recommends patients speak with their employers to see what they can do to help during lupus flares. Some suggestions include not being seated near a window, as the sunlight is one of the triggers — especially for the rash symptom. If that is not possible, the patient must remember to wear sunblock or cover their skin. (This applies for ultraviolet lighting, as well.)

Botic said lupus patients should avoid coworkers with colds because infections can cause severe lupus flare-ups.

“Report flare-ups to your doctor,” Botic said. “Work with a physical therapist. Make sure you take your medications regularly. No smoking. Do not get pregnant while your lupus is active as it can affect the baby and the pregnancy.”

Lupus can run in families and is not curable, but with the right care, prognosis is good and gets better with improved medications.

“In 1955, the five-year survival rate was less than 50 percent,” Botic said. “Now, if it was recognized early, the 10-year survival is more than 90 percent. Lupus sufferers are more apt to die of complications from infections or heart attack than their lupus.”

Botic also recommends getting vaccinated for pneumococcal flu, hepatitis and tetanus.

Often patients with chronic illnesses also suffer depression, she said. They feel guilty for not being as productive as they used to be, and they usually don’t look sick, unless a rash is present, but can be experiencing a flare-up. Others see them use a handicap parking spot or handicap bathroom stall and may give them a dirty look or a condescending word without realizing that they genuinely qualify for the designation.

For these concerns and others, a lupus or autoimmune disease support group may be a benefit to the patient, Botic said.

A support group is hosted by Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar. The contact person is Janelle Joneson at 320-796-5119 or 320-212-9461. The group meets the last Thursday of the month at 1:30 p.m. at McMillan’s restaurant.

Further information can also be obtained from the Lupus Foundation of Minnesota in Bloomington at