Local Rheumatologist to Discuss Long-Awaited New Treatment for Lupus at Upcoming Free Seminar
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), also called "lupus," is an autoimmune disease that can be particularly frustrating for both patients and doctors. Affecting as many as 1.5 million Americans - mostly women in their 20s and 30s - lupus can be difficult to diagnose and challenging to treat.
This chronic disease can affect any part of the body, including the skin, joints and organs. As lupus is an autoimmune disease, there are treatments available to address the symptoms but they are not a cure. More than 16,000 new cases of lupus are reported annually in the U.S., according to the Lupus Foundation of America.
For a long time, the treatment of choice for lupus has been drug therapy. Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first new drug for the treatment of adults with active lupus in the last 50 years. Generically named Belimumab, the new medication is a biologic drug, meaning it is made from a living organism.
"Until now, the drugs we've been using to treat lupus patients have been mainly intended to relieve symptoms, like pain, skin rash and inflammation," explained Sabiha Rasheed, MD, a board certified rheumatologist who is on the medical staff at Washington Hospital. "Studies have found that this new drug, when added to a patient's regimen of other commonly used medications, can reduce the disease activity of lupus. As a result, patients may experience fewer symptoms. I have seen very good results with my first two patients who are taking Belimumab."
The public is invited to learn more about the latest treatment for lupus at a free educational forum led by Dr. Rasheed on Wednesday, May 23 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. New Advances in Lupus Treatment is part of the Evening Lecture Series sponsored by the Washington Women's Center. It will be presented in the Washington Women's Center Conference Room located in the Washington West Building, 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. To reserve your spot, go online to www.whhs.com and look under Upcoming Seminars, or call (800) 963-7070.
A new approach to treatment
The immune system is designed to fight off viruses, bacteria and other germs. Normally, B cells in the immune system produce proteins, or antibodies, that work to protect the body from such threats. People who have lupus have an overactive immune system, which means the B cells stay in the body longer than they should, producing antibodies that attack and destroys normal tissue. This causes inflammation, pain and damage to different parts of the body.
Delivered intravenously, Belimumab works by binding to a protein in the human body called B-lymphocyte stimulator, or BLyS (pronounced "bliss"), and preventing it from stimulating the B cells. Studies have shown that many people with lupus have higher levels of BLyS.
"There are other drugs for lupus, but I believe this newest treatment is very promising," Dr. Rasheed stated.
Although Belimumab has been approved by the FDA, studies have not been done to evaluate its safety and effectiveness in patients with severe active lupus of the kidneys or central nervous system. Also, it has not been studied for use in combination with other biologics or intravenous cyclophosphamide, which is a type of immunosuppressive sometimes used to treat lupus. In these cases, Belimumab is not recommended.
A difficult disease
Lupus is often considered a difficult disease because it can affect people in a wide variety of ways. Joint pain and swelling is one common problem, and some patients develop arthritis. Other symptoms related to lupus include chest pain, fatigue, fever, malaise, hair loss, mouth sores and sensitivity to sunlight.
With this unpredictable disease, different factors can trigger a flare-up at any time. Exposure to ultraviolet light, including sunlight, aggravates symptoms in up to 70 percent of lupus patients. Many people develop a butterfly-like rash over the cheeks and bridge of the nose.
Another unpredictable feature of lupus is its severity. In some people, it is so mild they may not be aware they have lupus. Others may have symptoms that are fairly mild but can be controlled with standard medications. Still other patients experience frequent flare-ups and difficult side effects from treatment. For some people, lupus is a life-threatening disease, which can attack a major organ such as the kidneys, heart or brain. In these cases, there is a risk of organ failure and death.
Other lupus treatments
For years, doctors have relied on a range of drugs to treat lupus. Many patients continue to depend on these medications to help manage their disease by minimizing symptoms, reducing inflammation and pain, and slowing serious organ damage. These therapies include anti-inflammatories, corticosteroids, antimalarials, immunosuppressives, and anticoagulants. Although these drugs can be effective, they can also bring on an array of side effects, which may also require medical treatment.
Dr. Rasheed treats many patients with lupus who experience a wide range of mild to severe symptoms or complications. She has practiced in the Fremont area since 2003.
For more information about Dr. Rasheed, visit Washington Hospital's Web site at www.whhs.com and click on Find My Physician. For more information about lupus, go to www.lupus.org, the Web site of the Lupus Foundation of America.