How lupus can affect my skin

Because lupus can affect almost each body system, the next few posts will address the effect lupus can have on each system. The first is the integumentary system, which includes the skin, nails and hair. Yes, the skin is a system, not just the wrapping paper that ‘covers’ us.

Nails can become rigid and grooved and there can be hair loss in sever lupus flares. When the skin becomes inflamed from lupus, there is a unique rash: the butterfly rash.

Lupus facial rash in a typical wolf-like distr...

Image via Wikipedia

About 2/3 of people with lupus develop a form of skin disease, called cutaneous  (Discoid Lupus). The lesions of cutaneous lupus are usually on the head, neck, face and ears.

Another skin manifestation is plaque psoriasis, which has lesions that are often red with dry silvery scales. Plaque psoriasis can cause chronic pain and can have many causes including stress, medications, skin injury and infection. Treatments include sun exposure, light therapy (phototherapy), topical treatments like cortisone creams and Vitamin D3 and soaking in water that has moisturizers. Also used are medications you take systemically, called biologicals. It is important to realize that all treatments need to be individualized; what works for one person may not work for someone else. The diagram below represents a possible treatment plan for plaque psoriasis:

Treatment ladder for Psoriasis

Image via Wikipedia

Other skin-related problems of lupus include calcinosis, in which the body deposits calcium underneath the skin. Sometimes, mammograms of lupus patients show lesions thought to be tumors, but when biopsied, are really calcium deposits.

Raynaud’s phenomenon is another skin-related complication of lupus. In Raynaud’s, the blood vessels of the hands and feet spasm, decreasing blood flow to the skin. Blood carries needed oxygen to fuel the cells and when the cells are deprived of oxygen, they become ‘cold’ and discolored and possibly painful.

Lupus also shows itself in the form of ulcers in mucous membranes, most often the mouth, nose or in vaginal tissue. It is really important to make sure that these are ulcers related to lupus and not related to herpes simplex virus.

These are but a few of the ways lupus can manifest itself in the integumentary system.  This is by no means a definitive list of all the complications that can develop and treatments for them. Your doctor should be the guide to your case.

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