How To Prevent Lupus

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Lupus is a chronic (long-lasting) autoimmune disease that affects the skin, lungs, kidneys, joints, muscles, and heart. Like other autoimmune conditions, the direct cause of lupus is unknown and the condition is not preventable.

However, if you have symptoms that are consistent with lupus but you have not yet met the criteria for a formal lupus diagnosis, there are also some things you can do to slow your condition from progressing.  

If you do receive a diagnosis for lupus, some preventative measures can reduce how often you experience lupus flares—or periods where you experience active symptoms. A variety of lifestyle factors, such as diet and environmental exposure, can help you lower your risk of a flare-up.

Who Is Most at Risk?

The exact underlying cause of lupus is unknown. Here’s what experts do know: when you develop lupus, your immune system attacks cells in your body by mistake. 

That said, anyone can get lupus. But, researchers have determined that some people are more likely to develop lupus than others. These factors include: 

  • Sex: Women are more likely to have lupus compared to men. Although some men do receive a lupus diagnosis, 90% of people with the condition are women between the ages of 15 and 44 years old.
  • Race and ethnicity: Women of African ancestry are more likely to develop lupus compared to white women. Lupus is also common in Latino, Native American, and Asian women. Black and Latino women are more likely to get lupus at a younger age and have more severe symptoms compared to other groups. While studies on the link between race and lupus are ongoing, researchers suspect genes play a role in how and why lupus affects non-white women.
  • Geographic location: Lupus has become more common in industrialized Western countries over the last 50 years. Researchers believe that the rate of lupus cases is lower in African and Asian countries compared to Western countries. However, women of African or Asian ancestry who live in Western countries are more likely to develop lupus than women of European ancestry.

How to Reduce Risk of a Formal Lupus Diagnosis 

Healthcare providers have not agreed on one standard diagnostic criteria for lupus which often makes it hard to diagnose the condition. However, most providers use the 2019 EULAR/ACR criteria—a set of criteria developed by the European Alliance of Associations for Rheumatology (EULAR)/American College of Rheumatology (ACR).

The first criterion for a lupus diagnosis is to have a positive antinuclear antibodies (ANA) test result. After that, a person who is being tested for lupus must meet at least 4 out of 11 criteria to receive an accurate diagnosis for lupus. However, the EULAR/ACR classification criteria is not perfect.

While some people meet the criteria for lupus, other people who have symptoms that are not consistent with lupus don’t always meet enough criteria for a formal lupus diagnosis because their condition has not yet progressed enough. This is known as preclinical lupus.

Researchers believe that early intervention during the preclinical lupus stage can delay or even prevent the transition to classified lupus for some people. Examples of early interventions may include:

  • Starting treatment with hydroxychloroquine (the most common medication for lupus) before a formal lupus classification 
  • Getting ANA tested regularly to monitor your condition 
  • Asking your healthcare provider about participation in clinical trials for people in the preclinical lupus stage for new medicines and technology that can slow down your condition from progressing 

These early interventions can help you and your provider closely monitor your condition. Although more research is needed for people in the preclinical lupus stage, following these suggestions can help you lower your risk of developing a formal lupus diagnosis and prevent complications from occurring. 

How to Reduce Risk of Flares

For people who have already received a diagnosis for lupus, there are a few preventative measures you can take to reduce how often you experience a flare-up and the severity of your symptoms. 

Environmental Exposure

Certain environmental factors can affect your risk of developing lupus. Research has shown that lupus is linked to:

  • Using or being exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light 
  • Current or past history of smoking cigarettes
  • Exposure to silica dust—commonly found in cleaning powders, soil, pottery materials, and cement

To reduce environmental triggers, you may consider:

  • Protecting your skin: Limit your exposure to the sun and UV light. Seek shaded areas when outdoors, wear sun-protective clothing (such as long-sleeved shirts, sunglasses, and wide-brimmed hats), and wear sunscreen that blocks UV-A and UV-B with a sun protection factor (SPF) greater than 55. Fluorescent, compact fluorescent, and halogen light bulbs may also emit some UV light. Replace these bulbs with LED or incandescent bulbs.
  • Quitting smoking: Smoking can trigger lupus flares. If you smoke cigarettes, try to quit smoking or speak to your provider about ways to reduce your tobacco intake. 
  • Limiting exposure to toxins: Look for household products that do not contain silica dust. If you are around people who smoke, secondhand smoke can also trigger a flare-up. Try your best to find environments that limit your exposure to secondhand smoke or request your friends and family to not smoke in your home or car. 

Nutrition and Dietary Choices

Previous studies indicate that some nutrition and dietary factors may play a role in the development of lupus. Some experts suggest that eating foods like fatty fish, olive oil, and cooked vegetables can soothe symptoms of chronic conditions like lupus. Coffee has been shown to decrease disease activity in lupus and even lower cytokine (proteins in the immune system that are important to cell signaling) levels.

There isn’t a special diet that people with lupus should eat. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explain that it’s important to maintain a well-balanced diet made up of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It may also be helpful to eat moderate amounts of lean protein like beans, fish, and chicken.

Stress Management and Self Care

Emotional stress can trigger flare-ups for a variety of chronic conditions, including lupus. Having a chronic condition can raise your risk of developing anxiety and depression, which can worsen symptoms and increase flares as a result. 

The Lupus Foundation of America suggests the following techniques to help you take better care of yourself:

  • Prioritize relaxation: Take breaks throughout the day to prevent physical exhaustion, try deep breathing techniques, put anxious thoughts and worries in a journal, practice yoga or meditation, and make time for hobbies you enjoy.
  • Establish healthy habits: Building a routine can help you lower stress. Try to make a schedule for your day, plan your meals with a loved one, find an exercise or activity that you can do for 30 minutes per day, and aim to get quality sleep each night.
  • Find support: Living with a chronic condition can be stressful and can sometimes be difficult to talk about. But, it’s important to keep a close group of loved ones updated about your condition and communicate how they can support you. It’s also a good idea to stay in touch with your healthcare provider to monitor your condition and make any changes to your treatment plan if necessary. Your provider can also help you find a mental health professional or a lupus support group if you think you think that’s beneficial for you.

Discuss With Your Healthcare Provider

If you’re experiencing an increase in your flares or notice your condition progressing, talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do to prevent and treat active symptoms. 

While it may take some time to find the prevention measures and treatment that is best fit for you, it’s important to stay proactive in your prevention and treatment plans. This can help you reduce the severity of your symptoms, slow disease progression, and improve your overall quality of life.  

A Quick Review

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune condition that produces inflammation and attacks healthy tissues and organs by mistake. While you can’t prevent lupus, you can try interventions that slow disease progression and reduce the frequency of lupus flares.

If you are in the preclinical stage of lupus, it’s a good idea to get tested and screened for the condition regularly. If you have already received a lupus diagnosis, reducing your exposure to environmental toxins, eating a well-balanced diet, and managing your stress can lower your risk of lupus flares and improve overall symptoms. 

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