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Last Updated: October 25, 2017

Lupus - Discoid and Systemic Lupus

Overview

Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus) is a chronic disease of the immune system that causes inflammation throughout the body. Normally the immune system makes proteins called antibodies that protect the body against foreign invaders like viruses, bacteria, and cancers. In lupus, the immune system malfunctions and produces antibodies that mistakenly attack healthy tissues. Lupus most commonly affects the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, brain, lungs, and blood cells. Lupus belongs to a group of disorders called autoimmune diseases, which attack various parts of the body in a similar fashion.

Main Types of Lupus

Lupus occurs far more frequently in women than men and usually occurs in people between age 15 and 40.

Causes

The underlying cause of lupus is unknown, but genetics, hormones, and environmental factors are key elements. Certain genes predispose people to develop lupus by increasing their susceptibility to triggers in the environment. People with lupus often have a close relative with lupus or another autoimmune disease. Additionally, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians are at increased risk for the disorder.

In women, the hormone estrogen is a very important causal factor. Nine times more women develop lupus than men.

Environmental factors associated with lupus include the following:

Symptoms

drawing of lupus rash on face

Lupus is a lifelong disease characterized by periods of exacerbation (flares), alternating with mild illness or absence of symptoms (remission). Symptoms of lupus are highly variable, so some individuals experience mild symptoms while others develop serious illness.

The following are the most common signs and symptoms of lupus:

Diagnosis

The symptoms associated with lupus are often difficult to distinguish from other diseases. Many patients experience mild or vague symptoms, making these cases particularly difficult to diagnosis.

When the symptoms and physical examination suggest a diagnosis of lupus, blood tests are used to measure specific types of antibodies, which are elevated in people with lupus.

Testing for Lupus

Treatment

Lupus is a life-long condition and there is no cure. However, there are effective treatments to control symptoms, and most people with lupus live a normal active life. Rarely, lupus involves multiple organs, causing life-threatening illness that requires aggressive treatment.

Prevention

There are no known methods to prevent the occurrence of lupus. However, in individuals with the disease, certain measures help decrease the incidence of lupus flares. In some cases, the skin rashes are prevented by avoidance of excessive exposure to sunlight and the use of sunscreen. Healthy lifestyle habits - proper nutrition, avoidance of stress, and not smoking - help prevent severe illness.

Sources

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Carla Hightower, MD

Dr. Hightower is an experienced physician who studied medicine at Northwestern University, where she also earned an MBA. As the founder of Living Health Works, she offers health coaching to individuals, private groups and corporations.