What Is Lupus?


Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the body. The body’s immune system protects the body from infection by attacking invaders, such as viruses and infections. Lupus causes the immune system to mistakenly attack the body’s tissues and organs, causing inflammation, swelling, pain and damage to the body.

Various organs and tissues can be affected by lupus-related inflammation including, but not limited to, the brain, lungs, heart, kidneys, skin, joints and blood cells. Although most individuals with lupus develop a mild case, it can be severe or life-threatening.

What are the symptoms?

Lupus symptoms differ from person to person and can affect any part of the body. Individuals may experience a few symptoms or many symptoms. Symptoms may develop suddenly or slowly, may be mild or severe, and may be temporary or permanent. The most common lupus symptoms include the following:

  • Butterfly-shaped rash across the nose and cheeks
  • Swollen, stiff, painful joints or arthritis
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Skin rashes or lesions
  • Unexplained fevers
  • Chest pain, especially when breathing deeply
  • Seizures
  • Hair loss
  • Sun or light sensitivity
  • Swollen ankles
  • Mouth or nose sores
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon (white or blue fingers/toes from cold or stress)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry eyes
  • Headaches, confusion or memory loss

What are the risk factors?

Certain factors increase the risk of developing lupus:

  • Females are more likely to develop lupus than men.
  • Lupus is diagnosed more often in individuals between the ages of 15 and 45.
  • Lupus is more common in African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans.
  • Individuals with a family history of lupus are at greater risk of developing the condition.

What causes lupus?

Health care professionals are uncertain of the exact cause of lupus; however, a combination of underlying factors may contribute to the condition:

  • Genetics
    An individual with a family history of lupus is at a slightly higher risk of developing the condition. Individuals with an inherited predisposition for lupus may develop the condition when exposed to an environmental trigger.
  • Environment
    Individuals who smoke, individuals prone to stress, and individuals exposed to toxins, such as silica dust, are at greater risk of developing lupus.
  • Hormones
    Increased estrogen levels or abnormal hormone levels may contribute to developing the condition. Women are at greater risk during their reproductive years when hormone levels are highest.
  • Infections
    Studies are being conducted on the link between lupus and infections, such as cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr and hepatitis C. Individuals who have lupus can relapse due to infections.
  • Medications
    Drug-induced lupus erythematosus may be caused by long-term use of certain types of blood pressure medications, anti-seizure medications and antibiotics. Symptoms typically improve upon stopping the medication.
  • Sunlight
    Exposure to the sun can trigger an internal response or trigger lupus lesions.
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