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Lupus, Your Lungs, And You

Lupus seems to impact all compartments of the lungs including pleuritis (MY ISSUE), which is inflammation of the linings around the lung. When Lupus affects the lungs, it can cause pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure that occurs in the arteries in the lungs) along with complications that can lead to pneumonitis and inflammation of the walls of the alveoli in the lungs.

How does lupus affect the lungs?

Chest pain, cough and shortness of breath are the most common symptoms associated with lupus and lung problems. However, when lupus lung pain becomes uncomfortable and severe, it is more than likely a sign of more serious lung issues such as:

  • Pleuritis chest pain: Occurs in the chest wall and can be diagnosed by a family doctor. The inflammation from pleuritis is normally in the cartilage that connects the rib to the sternum (much more common in those who have autoimmune diseases).
  • Pneumonitis: Caused by inflammation or a bacterial infection, and a major problem for those with lupus. Medications used to treat the disease increases the risk of bacterial infection.
  • Pulmonary hypertension: If scarring has occurred due to disease of the lung, more pressure is needed for the heart to push blood from the right ventricle into the lung. Blood pressure affects the capillaries in the lung. This can decrease blood flow.
  • Other lung problems:
  1. Shrinking lung syndrome– a condition that leads to smaller lungs
  2. Pulmonary hemorrhage– bleeding in the lung
  3. Interstitial lung disease– chronic inflammation/scarring of the lung tissue

When lupus affects your lungs

If you have lupus and breathing becomes really difficult, you should get to a hospital immediately. Once you get to a doctor, the proper tests can be conducted to determine what is going on. Based on the results the doctor may instruct you to:

  • Stay away from triggers of lupus and lung symptoms, such as smoking, second hand smoke, and exposure to pollutants
  • Exercising is important for those who have lupus because it forces them to breathe deeply, which can help keep the lungs strong
  • Taking a close look at diet can also impact lupus and the pain associated with the disease.
  • Talk to your doctor during your next visit about your risk of lung problems, including how to spot them
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