Overall, the outlook for people with systemic lupus is improving each decade with the development of more accurate monitoring tests and treatments.
The role of the immune system in causing diseases is becoming better understood through research. This knowledge will be applied to design safer and more effective treatment methods. For example, completely revising the immune system of people with extremely aggressive treatments that virtually temporarily wipe out the immune system is being evaluated. Current studies involve immune eradication with or without replacement of cells that can re-establish the immune system (stem cell transplantation).
It should be noted that people with SLE are at a somewhat increased risk for developing cancer. The cancer risk is most dramatic for blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, but is also increased for breast cancer. This risk probably relates, in part, to the altered immune system that is characteristic of SLE.
Women with SLE appear to be at increased risk for heart disease (coronary artery disease) according to recent reports. Women with SLE should be evaluated and counseled to minimize risk factors for heart disease, such as elevated blood cholesterol, quitting smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) has been helpful in reducing fatigue, improving thinking difficulties, and improving quality of life in people with SLE. Recent research indicates that DHEA has been shown to improve or stabilize signs and symptoms of SLE. DHEA is commonly available in health-food stores, pharmacies, and many groceries.
Landmark research has shown clearly that oral contraceptives do not increase the rate of flares of systemic lupus erythematosus. This important finding is opposite to what has been thought for years. Now we can reassure women with lupus that if they take birth-control pills, they are not increasing their risk for lupus flares. NOTE: Birth-control pills or any estrogen medications should still be avoided by women who are at increased risk of blood clotting, such as women with lupus who have phospholipid antibodies (including cardiolipin antibody and lupus anticoagulant).
Individuals with SLE can improve their prognosis by learning about the many aspects of the illness as well as closely monitoring their own health with their doctors.
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