You feel it. You know you are starting to get a bad respiratory infection. You know the signs (or maybe it’s a different type that you always get). You go within the first two days to see a doctor. You know you need antibiotics or treatment, and you do your best to be sure the doctor knows how serious this will become if you aren’t treated. You always cross your fingers they will listen.
Today, many physicians are hesitant, even with a lupus patient, to treat an infection in the first few days due to the push to stop treating everything with antibiotics. They will leave us to try to “fight it on our own.” Unfortunately for us, our body is too busy attacking itself to get rid of the foreign invaders. We always end up back at the doctor for treatment.
We know when we get sick, we are sick. It’s never “just a cold.” It’s always more than that. But now Michael M. Ward, MD, MPH, the senior investigator at the Intramural Research Program at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases published a study confirming this for lupus patients.
This study looked at people with and without lupus and did a comparison of hospitalization rates for serious infection, and the seriousness of infections. People with lupus have increased rates of hospitalization over time, as well as the infections escalate more quickly, compared to the general population. The good news: the risk of death for people with lupus is not higher than those with the same infections in the general population, and we have treatments out there for the most common infections.
What this means, is we can minimize the severity of serious infections by getting treatment more quickly. We will be hospitalized more and have worse infections with lupus than other people for serious infections.
What types of infections do we mean?
This study looked at five serious infections, and the most common type among those with lupus include respiratory system (lungs and heart), the skin and the urinary tract, Candida (yeast) infections and shingles.
However, the risk for more infections and greater intensity in any infection have been known in lupus patients for a long time.
Why do lupus patients have it worse when it comes to infections?
Lupus, the disease, causes infections to occur more frequently. Because lupus is systemic, and the way it affects the immune system, it can cause the body to ignore or react slowly to foreign invaders, like bacteria or viruses.
People with lupus also may be taking immunosuppressants to control their disease. Unfortunately, these do not target just lupus immune issues, but rather the entire immune system, lowering your bodies defenses against germs as well.
What can we do about this?
Knowing we are at a higher risk for more frequent and longer lasting infections, as well as knowing the signs of infection, and seeking treatment immediately, is important. Be sure the physician you see knows you have lupus, and knows we are at a higher risk for worse and more frequent infections.
Will you always be treated right away, or be taken seriously right away, if you are at the early signs of infection? No! But it’s important to see a doctor and push for treatment if you are certain of an infection. Hopefully, you have an understanding doctor, who knows the risks of waiting too long for someone with lupus.
Has this happened to you? Please share.