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Quick Lupus Facts

While lupus is not well known or understood, it is far more common than better known diseases such as leukemia, muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis and multiple sclerosis. Without early diagnosis and treatment, lupus can be severely debilitating, even deadly. See our blog for essential information on symptoms, treatment, and tips on living with lupus and other overlap conditions.

Lupus can affect people of all ages, including children. However, women of childbearing ages—15 to 44 years—are at greatest risk of developing SLE. Women of all ages are affected far more than men.

No two cases of lupus are the same. Symptoms come and go, and lupus mimics other diseases.

One-third of people with lupus are on work disability. By 15 years after diagnosis, 51% have stopped working.

Symptoms are unpredictable and can range from extreme fatigue, skin rashes, severe joint and muscle pain to organ failure and even death.

The causes of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) are still unknown, yet are believed to be linked to environmental, genetic, and hormonal factors.

Women with lupus can safely get pregnant and most will have normal pregnancies and healthy babies. However, all women with lupus who get pregnant are considered to have a “high risk pregnancy.”

Lupus is 2 to 3 times more prevalent among women of color - African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders — than among Caucasian women.

Most people with SLE do not have family members with the disease; however, some people with SLE do have a family history of the disease. Men and women with an immediate family member with SLE have only a slightly higher risk for the disease.

The cause of lupus is unknown; there is no cure. Existing treatments options are few and many have dangerous side effects.

Adults with SLE may have periods of active symptoms—called flares. Flares can be infrequent — sometimes, even years apart, and go away at other times — called remission. However, other adults may experience SLE flares more frequently throughout their life.

Often, men with lupus struggle with the idea that they have a “female’s disease,” even though the diagnosis has no connection to masculinity.

People with lupus can experience significant symptoms, such as extreme fatigue, hair loss, oral ulcers, sun sensitivity, skin rashes, fevers, muscle and joint pain, arthritis and cognitive issues. Many suffer from lung, heart and kidney problems. For others, there may be no visible symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 16,000 new cases of lupus per year, however it is anticipated that new studies will probably change this number.

What is Lupus?

Lupus is a widespread and chronic (meaning long-term or lifelong) autoimmune disease that, for unknown reasons, causes the immune system to attack the body’s own tissue and organs, including the joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, brain, blood, or skin. Lupus is one of America’s least recognized major diseases, despite the fact that upwards of 1.5 million Americans and over five million worldwide suffer with this debilitating disease. Ninety percent of those affected with lupus are women between the ages of 15 and 45, and of those, two-thirds are people of color. It is far more common than well-known diseases such as leukemia, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis combined. Lupus causes a wide variety of devastating symptoms.

It can affect nearly every organ in the body with no predictability, causing widespread infections and inflammation. As of yet, lupus has no cure but advances in the medical and research community are continually being made, which will lead to earlier diagnosis, better treatments and eventually a cure. A healthy immune system protects the body against viruses, bacteria, and other foreign materials. With an autoimmune disease like lupus, the immune system loses its ability to tell the difference between foreign substances and its own cells and tissue. The immune system then makes antibodies directed against “self”. This debilitating disease affects each patient differently.

Four Types of Lupus

  • Discoid lupus erythematosus

    This type affects the skin and is also known as cutaneous lupus.

  • Drug-induced lupus erythematosus

    This type can occur as a side effect of some drugs, such as beta blockers, which are commonly used to treat heart disease and hypertension.

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus

    Systemic lupus causes inflammation in multiple organs and body systems.

  • Neonatal lupus erythematosus

    This is a rare form of lupus in newborn babies, whose mothers have lupus, and can cause problems at birth or in rare cases, a serious heart defect.

What Causes Lupus?

First of all, it is important to know that lupus is not contagious. Secondly, it is a fact that even medical professionals and researchers can not say for certain what causes lupus. Most of those in medical and research professions will agree that several factors might determine an individual’s likelihood to develop lupus.

Genetics. While a family history of lupus does not mean an individual will get lupus, it can determine a person’s likelihood for the disease.

Environment: Research is being conducted regarding environmental factors that may play a roll in being a trigger for lupus. Exposure to UV light (photo-sensitivity), smoking, stress, or toxins may or may not be contributing factors.
Hormones and Illness: Because of the fact that women in their childbearing years are the most common demographic afflicted with lupus, research is suggesting that higher levels of hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, are linked to auto-immune diseases like lupus. People affected with viruses and bacteria, such as parvovirus, hepatitis C, or Epstein-Barr (EBV) may develop lupus, but a direct causal link has not been established.

Medications: Some medications are suspected triggers of lupus and symptom flares, thus a subset of the disease. Drug-induced lupus is based on this theory. Often, once a patient with drug-induced lupus stops taking the medications suspected of inducing the lupus, the symptoms can decline rapidly.

A Combination of Factors: Many in the medical and research fields believe that a combination of all the above listed factors is likely more susceptible to getting lupus, than a person with, perhaps, only one of the factors. Lupus continues to remain a mystery to doctors, researchers and the general public. With continued research and education, one day we will understand better what causes this autoimmune disease to occur.

Sources

lupus.about.com/od/causesriskfactors/p/LupusCauses, mayoclinic.com/health/lupus, lupus.webmd.com/guide/lupus-systemic-lupus-erythematosus-cause

Author

Karrie Sundboom

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All resources provided by us are for informational purposes only and should be used as a guide or for supplemental information, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. The personal views expressed here do not necessarily encompass the views of the organization, but the information has been vetted as a relevant resource. We encourage you to be your strongest advocate and always contact your healthcare practitioner with any specific questions or concerns.