Systemic lupus erythematosus, or simply lupus, is a disease that can damage any part of the body, including skin, joints, and organs, by causing the body’s natural defense system to attack healthy tissue. It is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body’s immune system (which produces proteins called antibodies to fight off invaders such as viruses, bacteria, and germs) cannot tell the difference between these invaders and the body’s healthy tissue. As the antibodies attack healthy tissue, it results in inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body, and symptoms tend to get worse during periodic flare-ups. Lupus can develop in people of any age and race or ethnic group, but it is most common among women of childbearing age (15-44), and women of color are two to three times more likely to develop the condition than Caucasians. The severity of lupus can range from mild to life-threatening, and there is no cure, but with good medical care, most people with lupus can lead a relatively full life.
The UAB Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology has consistently been ranked as one of the top 12 clinical rheumatology programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report. It is internationally recognized for its dedication to advancing knowledge and translating research findings into more effective diagnosis and treatment of patients with rheumatic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE), osteoporosis, scleroderma, dermatomyositis, polymyositis, vasculitis (including Wegener’s granulomatosis), and related diseases. As one of the largest academic rheumatology programs in the nation, the division’s clinical practice logs more than 10,000 visits annually, evaluating and treating patients with various forms of connective tissue disease. It is staffed by practitioners and specialists in multiple fields, making it easier for physicians to collaborate toward more effective patient care.
Since the division’s formation in the 1950s, our rheumatologists have contributed substantially to the understanding of rheumatic diseases, including their pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, and current diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. They work closely with specialists in musculoskeletal radiology to provide the most advanced imaging techniques and interpretation of radiographs, CT scans, and MRI scans. The Interdisciplinary Infusion Center at The Kirklin Clinic of UAB Hospital provides ready access to the latest FDA-approved intravenous medications for many rheumatic diseases.
UAB experts co-developed a free smartphone app that helps patients with lupus manage their condition and make better treatment choices that align with their preferences and values. Available for both Apple and Android/Google phones, the app was created over the past five years in collaboration with 15 other leading U.S. lupus clinics, including private practices and academic medical centers. The app has been downloaded by about 2,000 patients so far, many of them minorities. By using the app before, during, or after a clinic visit – whether in person or via telehealth – patients now have a tool that prompts them to ask their providers specific questions about their condition and how it should be managed, which leads to shared decision-making and more personalized lupus care.
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