What is Lupus?
- Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body (skin, joints, and/or organs). “Chronic” means that the signs and symptoms tend to last longer than six weeks and often for many years.
- In lupus, something goes wrong with the immune system, which is the part of the body that fights off viruses, bacteria, and germs (“foreign invaders,” like the flu). Normally our immune systems produce proteins called “antibodies” which protect the body from these invaders.
- “Autoimmunity” means your immune system cannot tell the difference between these foreign invaders and your body’s healthy tissues (“auto” means “self”). As a result, it creates autoantibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue.
- These autoantibodies cause inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body.
How common is lupus and who does it affect?
- The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that at least five million people worldwide, have a form of lupus.
- Lupus strikes mostly women of childbearing age. However, men, children, and teenagers develop lupus, too. Most people with lupus develop the disease between the ages of 15-44.
- People with lupus can experience significant symptoms, such as pain, extreme fatigue, hair loss, cognitive issues, and physical impairments that affect every facet of their lives. Many suffer from cardiovascular disease, strokes, disfiguring rashes, and painful joints. For others, there may be no visible symptoms.
What are the 4 different forms of lupus?
- Systemic lupus accounts for approximately 70 percent of all cases of lupus. In approximately half of these cases, a major organ or tissue in the body, such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, or brain will be affected.
- Cutaneous lupus (affecting only the skin) accounts for approximately 10 percent of all lupus cases.
- Drug-induced lupus accounts for about 10 percent of all lupus cases and is caused by high doses of certain medications. The symptoms of drug induced lupus are similar to systemic lupus; however, symptoms usually subside when the medications are discontinued.
- Neonatal lupus is a rare condition in which the mother’s antibodies affect the fetus. At birth, the baby may have a skin rash, liver problems, or low blood cell counts, but these symptoms typically disappear completely after six months with no lasting effects.
What is the role of genetics in lupus?
- Genes do play a role in the predisposition to the development of lupus. There are dozens of known genetic variants linked to lupus. These genes impact both who gets lupus and how severe it is.
- 20 percent of people with lupus will have a parent or sibling who already has lupus or may develop lupus. About 5 percent of the children born to individuals with lupus will develop the illness.
- Although lupus can develop in people with no family history of lupus, there are likely to be other autoimmune diseases in some family members.
Additional facts about lupus you should know:
- Lupus is not contagious, not even through sexual contact. You cannot “catch” lupus from someone or “give” lupus to someone.
- Lupus is not like or related to cancer. Cancer is a condition of malignant, abnormal tissues that grow rapidly and spread into surrounding tissues.
- Lupus is an autoimmune disease, as described above. However, some treatments for lupus may include immunosuppressant drugs that are also used in chemotherapy.
- Lupus is not like or related to HIV (Human Immune Deficiency Virus) or AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). In HIV or AIDS the immune system is underactive; in lupus, the immune system is overactive.
- Lupus can range from mild to life-threatening and should always be treated by a doctor. With good medical care, most people with lupus can lead a full life.
Source: Lupus Foundation of America. Learn more at lupus.org/resources