SYSTEMIC LUPUS ERYTHEMATOSUS
An inflammation of the connective tissues,
SLE can afflict every organ system. It is up to nine times more
common in women than men and strikes black women three times as
often as white women. The condition is aggravated by sunlight.
- Symptoms: Fever,
weight loss, hair loss, mouth and nose sores, malaise, fatigue,
seizures and symptoms of mental illness. Ninety percent of
patients experience joint inflammation similar to rheumatoid
arthritis. Fifty percent develop a classic "butterfly" rash on the
nose and cheeks. Raynaud's phenomenon (extreme sensitivity to cold
in the hands and feet) appears in about 20 percent of people with
Anti-inflammatory drugs can help control arthritis symptoms; skin
lesions may respond to topical treatment such as corticosteroid
creams. Oral steroids, such as prednisone, are used for the
systemic symptoms. Wearing protective clothing and sunscreen when
outdoors is recommended.
- Prognosis: Once a
disease with high mortality, SLE is now a chronic disease because
of new treatment approaches. It is estimated that 97 percent of
individuals with SLE live at least five years, and 90 percent live
at least 10 years after diagnosis, as compared with just 50
percent living more than four years in 1954. African Americans
with SLE appear to have earlier onset, experience a more severe
disease, and die earlier than Caucasians with SLE.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic
disorder in which immune cells attack and inflame the membrane
around joints. It also can affect the heart, lungs, and eyes. Of the
estimated 2.1 million Americans with rheumatoid arthritis,
approximately 1.5 million (71 percent) are women.
- Symptoms: Inflamed
and/or deformed joints, loss of strength, swelling, pain.
- Treatment: Rest and
exercise; anti-inflammatory drugs when necessary.
- Prognosis: With
proper treatment, education, and changes in lifestyle, most women
with rheumatoid arthritis live long and productive lives.
Scleroderma is an activation of
immune cells which produces scar tissue in the skin, internal
organs, and small blood vessels. It affects women three times more
often than men overall, but increases to a rate 15 times greater for
women during childbearing years, and appears to be more common among
- Symptoms: In most
patients, the first symptoms are Raynaud's phenomenon and swelling
and puffiness of the fingers or hands. Skin thickening follows a
few months later. Other symptoms include skin ulcers on the
fingers, joint stiffness in the hands, pain, sore throat, and
- Treatment: The drug
Dpenicillamine has been shown to decrease skin thickening.
Symptoms involving other organs such as the kidneys, esophagus,
intestines, and blood vessels are treated individually.
- Prognosis: No cure
exists, but timely intervention can improve the quality of
Sjögren's syndrome (also called "Sjögren's
disease") is a chronic, slowly progressing inability to secrete
saliva and tears. It can occur alone or with rheumatoid arthritis,
scleroderma, or systemic lupus erythematosus. Nine out of 10 cases
occur in women, most often at or around midlife.
- Symptoms: Dryness
of the eyes and mouth, swollen neck glands, difficulty swallowing
or talking, unusual tastes or smells, thirst, tongue ulcers, and
severe dental caries.
Interventions to keep the mouth and eyes moist include drinking a
lot of fluids and using eyedrops, as well as good oral hygiene and
- Prognosis: The
disease has a benign course, but in rare cases malignant cancer of
the lymph nodes may develop.