Risk factors and complications of lupus

Risk factors and complications of lupus

Some basic factors which may increase the risk of developing lupus include:

  • Gender: Lupus can be diagnosed in both men and women, but is more common among the fairer sex.
  • Age: The most common age range (although not exclusively) in which lupus is diagnosed is between 15 and 44.
  • Race: Ethnicity does play a role in how high a person’s risk for lupus is. It has been commonly diagnosed among African-American, Hispanics and Asians.

Lupus can lead to an increased risk of infections such as urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, yeast infections, salmonella, herpes and shingles, as well as cancer, avascular necrosis (bone tissues which diminish or ‘die’ due to collapse) and pregnancy complications (higher risk of miscarriage, high blood pressure (preeclampsia) and preterm birth.

Typical complications of lupus often result from inflammation in the body in varying degrees of severity. Serious kidney damage (or failure) is one of the leading causes of death among people with lupus.

Other complications include damage to the brain and central nervous system where sufferers experience physical and behavioural changes (headaches, dizziness, hallucinations, seizures and even stroke). Blood problems (anaemia, bleeding,blood clotting or vasculitis) are also common complications.

Breathing problems and inflammation of the chest cavity lining (pleurisy) can also lead to the development of pneumonia. Inflammation of the heart muscle, arteries or pericardium (heart membrane) known as pericarditis can also occur resulting in cardiovascular disease and heart attacks.

Lupus and pregnancy

Both pregnancy and lupus carry their own set of risks and complications for both mother and child. Not all women with lupus will be completely discouraged from falling pregnant, but it is essential to work with a doctor to ensure the best outcome, keeping all risk factors and complications top of mind, for both mother and child.

Many women have been able to safely fall pregnant and have healthy babies while managing symptoms of lupus.

For a woman with lupus, the first steps for a healthy pregnancy begin before the time of conception. It’s vitally important to ensure that lupus is under control for at least six months before falling pregnant. Pregnancy naturally places additional stresses on the body and its functions. The healthier a woman is when she conceives, the greater her chances of a healthy pregnancy and baby.

Pregnancies in women with lupus are often classified as ‘high-risk’ and the attending doctor will take extra precautions. Selecting an obstetrician (gynaecologist) who specialises in or has experience with high-risk pregnancies is recommended. Selecting a hospital that is well-known for successful high-risk deliveries is also worth considering. It is also a good idea to ensure that, if applicable in a woman's country of residence, health insurance plans be checked thoroughly to ensure that any necessary treatments required are covered.

Many potential risks or complications in expectant moms with lupus can be prevented or sufficiently treated if addressed early. Some problems which could develop are:

  • ‘Flares’: An improvement of normal lupus symptoms during pregnancy, while in others symptoms appear to worsen (especially during the first 3 months after birth).
  • Hypertensive complications: High blood pressure (preeclampsia) often requires immediate treatment.
  • Miscarriage: The loss of a baby can be as a result of high blood pressure, active lupus (a flare-up of symptoms), kidney disease or antiphospholipid antibodies (a type of antibody that increases the risk of blood clots in the veins and arteries, as well as those in the placenta). An expectant mom should be screened for antibodies, especially if a woman has miscarried before.
  • Preterm delivery: This occurs more frequently where preeclampsia, antiphospholid antibodies and active lupus symptoms develop during pregnancy. Symptoms that can indicate premature labour include backache, pelvic pressure, leakage of fluid (clear or blood) from the vagina, abdominal cramps and contractions occurring every 10 minutes (or more).
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