What Is Lupus?
Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body (skin, joints, and/or organs inside the body). In lupus, something goes wrong with your immune system, which is the part of the body that fights off viruses, bacteria, and germs ("foreign invaders," like the flu). Normally our immune system produces proteins called antibodies that protect the body from these invaders. Autoimmune means your immune system cannot tell the difference between these foreign invaders and your body’s healthy tissues ("auto" means "self") and creates autoantibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue. These autoantibodies cause inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body. Chronic means that the signs and symptoms tend to last longer than six weeks and often for many years. Some people with lupus suffer only minor inconvenience. Others suffer significant lifelong disability. Lupus is also a disease of flares (the symptoms worsen and you feel ill) and remissions (the symptoms improve and you feel better).
No single factor is known to cause lupus. Research suggests that a combination of genetic, hormonal, environmental, and immune system factors may be behind it. Environmental factors, ranging from viral and bacterial infections to severe emotional stress or overexposure to sunlight, may play a role in provoking or triggering the disease. Certain drugs, such as the blood pressure drug hydralazine and the heart rhythm drug procainamide, may cause lupus-like symptoms. High estrogen levels resulting from pregnancy may aggravate lupus. It's not a disease you can catch from another person.
Who Gets Lupus?
Anyone can get lupus. About 9 out of 10 adults with lupus are women ages 15 to 45. African-American women are three times more likely to get lupus than white women. Lupus is also more common in Latina, Asian, and Native American women. Men are at a higher risk before puberty and after age 50. Despite an increase in lupus in men in these age groups, two-thirds of the people who have lupus before puberty and after age 50 are women.