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Our expert physicians with UF Health Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology in Jacksonville specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of lupus and other diseases that affect the muscles, skeleton, joints and tendons.

If you have lupus and are planning a pregnancy, we also have Maternal Fetal Medicine specialists who will work with your obstetrician and rheumatologist to provide counseling and closely monitor your pregnancy.

What is lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to mistakenly attack your own body, damaging healthy cells and tissues. Though it affects everyone differently, it is characterized by episodes of inflammation, pain, rashes, fatigue and fever and can injure many parts of the body, including the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels and brain. Lupus is a long-term, or chronic, disease. Though there is no cure, proper medical treatment can help to reduce symptoms.

Lupus: Disease types

There are several kinds of lupus:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common type. It can be mild or severe and can affect many parts of the body.
  • Discoid lupus causes a red rash that doesn't go away
  • Subacute cutaneous lupus causes sores after being out in the sun
  • Drug-induced lupus is caused by certain medicines, and usually goes away when you stop taking the medicine
  • Neonatal lupus, which is rare, affects newborns and is probably caused by certain antibodies from the mother

Lupus: Symptoms

Lupus can have many symptoms that vary for each person. Many patients experience symptoms that come and go in what is called a flare-up, which can range from mild to severe. Here are some of the more common signs of lupus:

  • Pain or swelling in joints
  • Muscle pain
  • Fever with no known cause
  • Red rashes, most often on the face
  • Chest pain when taking a deep breath
  • Hair loss
  • Pale or purple fingers or toes
  • Sensitivity to the sun
  • Swelling in legs or around eyes
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Swollen glands
  • Fatigue

Lupus: Diagnosis

Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms mimic those of other diseases, such as arthritis. Our rheumatologists have broad experience in evaluating connective tissue disorders, such as lupus, arthritis and other related disorders. While there is no single exam for lupus, and symptoms can vary, our specialists will use a number of blood tests to identify the disease. Here are some of the blood tests and other assessments that may be used to confirm a diagnosis:

  • Blood tests for antibodies often present with lupus
  • Evaluation of organ specific involvement can include:
    • Complete blood count of red and white blood cells and platelets
    • Complete chemistry panel to evaluate kidney function, liver function
    • Urine tests to assess kidney function
    • Tests to check for predisposition to excessive blood clots
    • Test that may affect fetal heart function
  • X-rays to gain images of organs, bones and other tissues
  • Biopsies of the skin, liver or kidneys to look for organ damage
  • Evaluation of disease activity
    • Complement test to determine blood levels of a group of proteins (complement) often at reduced with lupus
    • Levels of an antibody called double stranded DNA (dsDNA)

Lupus: Treatment

If you are diagnosed with lupus, our specialists will apply the latest advances and best therapies to manage your condition. In addition to your primary OB-GYN and rheumatologist, you may see other specialists based on how lupus has affected your body. As a team, these experts will develop a treatment plan to suit your individual needs.

Because flare-ups of the disease can be damaging to healthy tissue, the goal of the treatment plan is to prevent occurrences or reduce their severity and control swelling and pain with medication. There are many types of medications that your doctor will discuss with you and make recommendations based on side effects and your personal health situation.

Lupus and pregnancy

If you have lupus, it is possible to have a healthy pregnancy, yet the disease can cause complications. When facing any type of high-risk pregnancy, the best way to ensure your safety and that of your baby is to work with your doctor several months before you start trying to become pregnant. Advance planning is also recommended in case your medications need to be adjusted. The goal is to have your lupus well maintained with few symptoms prior to pregnancy and to ensure that your medications will be safe for your baby.

You will also consult with our maternal fetal medicine specialists who are experts in high-risk pregnancies. They will work with your medical team to closely monitor your pregnancy and provide the best possible care. They will also provide prenatal counseling for you and help develop strategies aimed at maintaining good health during your pregnancy, as well as assisting with any challenges that might occur in labor and delivery.

Our experts

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