Lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is an inflammatory disease of unknown cause. It is an unpredictable disease, varying a great deal from one case to another. A potentially serious rheumatic disorder, systemic lupus erythematosus affects women much more often than men.
In about eighty percent of SLE cases, joint inflammation occurs. The inflammation may affect connective tissues throughout the body and cause problems in one or more of the body’s organs, including the eyes, muscles, heart, lungs, and kidneys.
In some people, systemic lupus erythematosus can produce potentially life-threatening complications. These secondary conditions may include convulsions, blood disorders, inflammation of the heart or lungs, and kidney failure. Of these SLE complications, kidney failure is considered perhaps the most severe.
The kidneys are vital organs and they are certainly essential to life. Should an SLE patient suffers kidney failure (that is, the kidneys become totally inactive), her/his life is placed at risk. The function of the kidneys is to eliminate waste products from the blood. They normally provide a wide safety margin, having much more functioning tissue than necessary to carry out their function. In fact, one kidney alone (provided it is healthy) can care for the body’s needs and still have leftover capacity.
In a case of systemic lupus erythematosus in which there is renal involvement, the working capacity of the kidneys is reduced. In case the reduction is gradual, the removal of wastes goes on normally for a time. Eventually, however, kidney failure may occur, as the kidneys lose their capacity to maintain the concentration of wastes within safe limits.
In kidney failure, another condition, called uremia, may occur. This subsequent condition occurs as a result of the excessive accumulation of wastes in the blood which produces toxic symptoms.
If SLE causes sudden and severe damage to the kidneys, production of urine is likely to cease; we are now looking at acute kidney failure. Both acute kidney failure and uremia are life-threatening. Modern laboratory methods enable physicians to measure kidney function and evaluate, on an hourly basis, the condition of SLE patients whose kidneys are affected.
In many cases of systemic lupus erythematosus in which kidney failure is a complication, the lives of patients are saved by the dialysis machine. This machine, known as the “artificial kidney,” is used to remove waste products from the blood and thus afford the patient’s own kidneys a new start in performing their function.
The outcome of kidney failure, which occurs as a complication of SLE, depends on whether damage to the patient’s own kidneys is permanent or whether the patient’s kidney tissues can resume normal functions after a period of rest.
1. Shannon Erstad, MBA/MPH, “Complications of lupus,” WebMD – http://lupus.webmd.com/guide/complications-of-lupus
2. “Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Complications,” The New York Times Health Guide (online) – http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/systemic-lupus-erythematosus/complications.html
3. “Kidney Failure,” MedicineNet.com – http://www.medicinenet.com/kidney_failure/article.htm