The Role of Vitamin D in Lupus

Systemic lupus erythematosis, often shortened to just lupus, is an autoimmune disease of the connective tissues that support and protect organs. Vitamin D deficiency may play a role in the development and progression of lupus, but this hasn't been proven yet.

Lupus can affect every organ in the body because connective tissue surrounds all organs. In lupus, antibodies form against the connective tissues in various parts of the body. Immune cells then destroy these tissues. The resultant signs and symptoms depend on which tissues are most affected.

Signs and symptoms of lupus

Lupus is nine times more common in women than men. Because lupus affects any organ in the body, signs and symptoms vary widely. Depending on where lupus starts, it may mimic other diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis.

The following are the most common signs and symptoms of lupus. Just remember the disease isn’t the same in everyone, so not all of the signs and symptoms are present in every person:

  • Blood disorders, especially anemia.

  • Brain and nervous system disorders, especially headaches and psychiatric problems, such as anxiety and psychosis.

  • General body problems, such as fever and fatigue.

  • Heart problems due to inflammation in the tissue surrounding the heart (the pericardium), the heart muscle itself (the myocardium), and the inner lining of the heart (the endocardium).

  • Joint disorders, especially pain and inflammation, that aren’t as severe and destructive as rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Kidney problems, such as blood in the urine, leading to kidney failure.

  • Lung problems from inflammation of the tissue around the lungs (the pleura), as well as pneumonia.

  • Skin disorders, especially a rash involving the nose and the face on either side of the nose, called a butterfly rash because of its appearance. Sunlight may bring on the rash.

Doctors use a blood test called the antinuclear antibody test to diagnose lupus. However, this test is positive in other connective tissue diseases and in normal people as well, so a diagnosis of lupus is made only if some of the preceding symptoms are seen in addition to a positive blood test.

Although lupus can be a serious disease, the course of lupus is much less severe now than in the past. Many patients can live without symptoms, and many effective medications can control symptoms and prevent complications that lead to death.

Vitamin D and lupus

Some studies support the idea that vitamin D deficiency plays a role in the development and progression of lupus. These show that patients with lupus who have the most active disease have the lowest serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D. Also, lower serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D correlate with higher levels of autoantibodies in lupus.

There’s not a lot of evidence for vitamin D and lupus yet. But given the role that vitamin D plays in the adaptive immune response, scientists are continuing to look for how vitamin D might be used to help those affected by lupus.

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