Lupus

Information About Lupus Image

Sixteen thousand Americans are diagnosed with lupus each year. Lupus is a chronic disease like arthritis that can linger in the body for many years. While lupus can affect both men and women, it has been called a “woman’s disease”: 90 percent of cases affect women between the ages of 20 and 40. Evidence suggests a connection between lupus and hormones, especially estrogen.

Factors Contributing to Lupus

The exact causes of lupus are unknown. Besides a connection with female hormones, lupus may also be triggered by genetics, immune responses and environmental factors. Infection, antibiotics, ultraviolet light, extreme stress and drugs have been found to have a connection with the onset of lupus. Lupus occurs at a higher incidence in African, American Indian and Asian people than in Caucasians.

Types of Lupus

Lupus commonly refers to systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE. Two other types of lupus are discoid lupus and drug-induced lupus. Discoid lupus affects only the skin, and drug-induced lupus results from taking certain prescription drugs. When someone says they have lupus, they are usually referring to SLE.

Lupus, Arthritis and Other Autoimmune Diseases

Lupus is a disease of the immune system. In a healthy immune system, the body makes proteins called antibodies to protect against viruses, bacteria and other foreign substances. Systemic lupus erythematosus is a complex disorder, which is thought to arise as a result of an autoimmune disorder.

Autoimmune disorders alter the way in which the body normally fights infection. The immune system loses its ability to distinguish between foreign substances and normal cells. This encourages the body to form autoantibodies, which produce antibodies against a variety of the body’s own cells. As a result, the immune system attacks its own tissues, leading to inflammation and pain. In lupus, the system attacks the body’s connective tissues, tissues that connect the body’s organs (i.e. cartilage, bone, blood). Sometimes rheumatoid arthritis and other systemic autoimmune conditions are associated with lupus.

Lupus Flare-Ups

The course of lupus is characterized by flare-ups, where mild to severe symptoms appear. Flare-ups are then followed by a remission phase in which symptoms are minimal or absent. Some cases of systemic lupus erythematosus are so severe that they can be life-threatening. Like arthritis, this condition causes pain and inflammation of the skin and joints. In some individuals, chronic flare-ups can lead to inflammation of tissues associated with vital organs like the lungs, kidneys and blood.