Dear Dr. Roach: I am a 65-year-old woman, very active and in good health, my only medication being a daily 5-mg tablet of Exforge to control high blood pressure. My mother had systemic lupus erythematosus and passed away when I was 13 years old.
For the past three weeks I have had a smooth, bright-red butterfly-shaped blush over my upper cheeks and nose (like I have been sunburned and am very hot), and this is making me very anxious. I can calm it down with a cold compress, but it returns a few hours later. I am not suffering any other symptoms. Could this be the onset of lupus? V.J.
Answer: The term lupus is imprecise, since it can refer to any of several related diseases. Systemic lupus erythematosus the kind your mother had, which was quite fatal 50 years ago and which still causes significant morbidity is, as its name suggests, a multisystem disease. It often affects the skin, joints, gut, kidneys, bone marrow, blood vessels, eyes, heart and nervous system, but it can affect many others. A person must have findings in multiple organs to make the diagnosis of systemic lupus.
The butterfly rash you mention does sound very suspicious for lupus, but in the absence of other symptoms or findings on exam or laboratory, it would be most consistent with the diagnosis of cutaneous lupus (there are several subtypes).
A dermatologist is the expert to see for diagnosing the rash, and a rheumatologist is best positioned to diagnose and treat systemic lupus. However, your regular doctor still may be the best person to start with. Given your family history, a careful exam and focused laboratory work to look for other possible signs might be a smart idea.
Dear Dr. Roach: I was reading a column of yours this week, talking about food and the possible dangers of plastic. I wonder about medicine and vitamins that are placed in plastic capsules and swallowed? How safe can that be? J.J.
Answer: I have been surprised by how many people have questions about the safety of plastics in food and medicine.
As for your question about the capsules themselves, although they look like plastic, they usually are made from gelatin (animal protein) or plant polysaccharides. They are absorbable by the body.
As for the plastic bottles or blister packs the capsules are packaged in, you neednt worry; they are safe for storing food.