Lupus is an autoimmune disease, which means that the immune system – which is supposed to protect the body from disease – is turned against it instead. Unfortunately, the immune system is very good at seeking and destroying cells. However, when turned against the body, it can cause a lot of damage and pain. Even an out-of-control immune system does still protect against disease (though not as well) and this function is important. After all, bacteria, fungi, and viruses would be all too happy to attack the body, too.
When treating lupus, doctors are careful not to over-reduce the activity of the immune system. However, when a person’s lupus is very severe, or not responding to other less-intensive medications such as corticosteroids, then the doctors may prescribe immunosuppressant medications that turn off the immune system entirely.
This leaves the body open to attack from the outside, instead of inside. In order to avoid getting sick, people with suppressed immune systems have to change their lifestyle in order to avoid potential pathogens (microorganisms that cause disease).
If you are immunocompromised, then protecting yourself from disease requires constant vigilance. The National Institute of Health offers a few simple things to keep in mind:
Diet, Rest, and Exercise
It sounds hokey to say “take care of yourself,” but you should not discount the benefits of a regular night’s sleep, exercise, and a nutritious (and regular) diet. While it can be difficult for people with lupus to maintain one or all of these basic necessities, they will help keep your body in good condition. Even with limited immune system function, a healthy body has some resistance to disease.
Fortunately, since immunosuppressants lower your lupus symptoms, you may well have the “spoons” to handle these basic needs – and shore up your body to be able to survive infection.
Dirty areas? Large crowds? Avoiding risky situations is a good first line of defense. Of course, not all risks can be avoided. When going to new places – and especially in places with large groups of people – use protective gear like face masks and gloves.
Protection is the first step – but cleanliness is a key second step. Clean your protective gear after use and wash your hands frequently.
That’s not all, though – don’t forget to clean the rest of your body frequently, to prevent buildups of oil and dead skin that can harbor bacteria. In the same vein, clean your home and space with soap, water, and antibacterial sprays. It is worth getting help to clean your home if you need it – it will also keep you safe. You can read more about hygiene and lupus here.
Limiting Social Contact
Don’t forget about the people around you when considering social contact. Your family, your friends, and even caretakers and medical personnel can carry pathogens in from the outside. Make sure people are aware that your immune system is suppressed and make sure that they take precautions around you to protect you.
Rather than canceling clinic visits, look up the technologies offered by your lupus treatment team. You may be able to try out a telemedicine visit to keep up with your rheumatologist while limiting your personal exposure.
Life With A Suppressed Immune System
… Is much like life without a suppressed immune system, just with a few more restrictions and care. Taking proactive steps can make sure it’s a pleasant one with less pain and anxiety.
If you have specific concerns, consult your treatment team – they know about your life and your specific medications and limitations, and might be able to advise you on specific things that you can do. Also talk to your team if your medication is not working for you – this is about letting you live well and freely, and their job is to find a way that you can do exactly that.
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