Lupus is a rheumatic condition which affects the muscles, joints, and connective tissue. About 1.5 million people in the US have lupus which includes as many as 10,000 children. Nearly 90% of those diagnosed with lupus are female. It’s an autoimmune disease. A healthy immune system produces special proteins or antibodies and these normally protect the body against bacteria and viruses that cause infections. In the case of lupus, the immune system confuses the body’s healthy cells and sees them
instead as if they were a bacteria or a virus, and the result is that our antibodies then attack some of our own body’s healthy cells. You become allergic to yourself.
So, what causes lupus? The cause is unknown although genetic factors may be important. Certain things can trigger the disease such as infection, medications, and even extreme physical or emotional stress. There are different types of lupus; the commonest is something called systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE and this affects multiple organs, and there is also form known as discoid or cutaneous lupus which only affects the skin, and in as many as 10% of all lupus cases, they’re classified as drug-induced lupus.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease where self generated antibodies attack different organs systems in the body including blood vessels, liver, eyes, kidneys, joints, heart, heart valves, skin, lungs, brain…and/or form complexes with their protein targets (antigens) that damage these organ systems. The degree of damage to each organ system is highly variable. Arthritis and joint pain is the most frequent complaint. It is thought to be due to a genetic predisposition combined with viral infections. The disease can spontaneously remit, respond to corticosteroids or be unresponsive to available medications. 50% of those with SLE have some degree of heart and/or kidney involvement. Much of this organ damage can be masked and then suddenly become apparent especially during flare ups of the disease. I am aware of one women in her 30s who died in the recovery room after breast augmentation by another surgeon due to a heart attack caused by SLE induced damage to her coronary arteries.
So, what are the symptoms that are commonly associated with lupus? There are many. Classically, there will be butterfly rash. This is a rash that is across the cheeks and the bridge of the nose. There may be sensitivity to light that results in a rash. Also there can be ulcers in the nose or mouth, which are usually painless. There’s a long list of many other symptoms that are associated with lupus including things like arthritis, inflammation of the lining around the organ such as the heart and the
lungs, kidney problems. There may also be neurological disorders including problems with seizures or even psychosis. Blood problems and problems with the immune system are also found in lupus. And in addition to that, there are some nonspecific symptoms such as fever, weakness, fatigue, and weight loss. There is no known cure for lupus but the symptoms can be controlled with drugs, for example steroids, and sometimes more aggressive treatment is needed with immunosuppressive therapy.
Therefore it is imperative if you have systemic lupus that you have a complete examination of all major organ systems before undergoing any elective cosmetic surgery. This may include cardiac stress testing and blood tests for liver and kidney function. If you cannot be weaned off of prednisone that may be an ominous sign and may preclude any elective cosmetic surgery especially if any implants are involved.
If you are taking prednisone for lupus the medication can also prolong the healing time after surgery and weaken your ability to fight infection so proceed with caution before undergoing any elective cosmetic surgery.