What is Lupus?
Lupus is an autoimmune disease. This is a disease where the immune system begins to attack tissue that is normal and healthy.
The symptoms that result are swelling and inflammation, damage to the skin, joints, blood, kidneys, lungs, and heart.
In normal conditions, your immune system makes proteins that are called antibodies. These are made to protect your body and fight against bacteria and viruses.
When you have lupus, your immune system is no longer able to tell the difference between these antigens and normal tissue.
This causes the immune system to send antibodies to attack the healthy tissue, instead of just the antigens, which results in pain and swelling as well as tissue damage.
Who Gets Lupus?
The Lupus Foundation of American says that 1.5 to 2 million Americans are affected by some form of lupus. In Northern Europeans, the prevalence is around 40 cases for every 100,000 persons. In African-Americans, that number increases to 200 per 100,000 people.
The disease does affect both women and men. However, women actually are diagnosed nine times more often than men.
Typically, the diagnosis comes between the ages of 15 and 45. African-American women present with symptoms that are much more severe and also have a much higher mortality rate.
There are some other factors that contribute to lupus: sunlight exposure, certain medications, Epstein-Barr virus, and being exposed to specific chemicals.
Types of Lupus
There are several different forms of lupus. The type that is simply called lupus is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, or SLE. The other types of lupus include discoid, drug-induced, and neonatal.
Discoid (Cutaneous) Lupus
Individuals with this form of lupus have a version of the disease that is limited only to the skin. The symptoms are: a rash appearing on the neck, scalp, and face.
This type of lupus does not affect the internal organs. Less than ten percent of individuals with this lupus will progress into SLE, but there is no way to prevent, or even predict, the path that the disease will take.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
This form of lupus is much more severe than discoid because it affects the organs and organ systems of the body. Some individuals may have inflammation or problems with only their joints and skin.
However, others with SLE will actually have problems with their joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, and blood. Often, individuals with this type of lupus will experience flares, where the disease is active, as well as periods of remission, where the disease lies dormant.
Drug Induced Lupus
This type of lupus is due to a reaction with specific prescription drugs. The symptoms of drug induced lupus are very similar to SLE.
The drugs that are most commonly associated with drug induced lupus are hypertension medication, called hydralazine, as well as a heart medication called procainamide.
However, there are around four hundred other drugs that can also trigger the condition. After an individual ceases taking the medication, drug induced lupus will clear up.
This is a very rare condition. Neonatal lupus happens when the mother passes autoantibodies to the fetus. The newborn, or even unborn, child will have skin rashes and complications with their blood and heart. Usually, in a newborn, a rash will appear, but will fade within the first six months.
Causes of Lupus
Doctors are still unclear on exactly what it is that causes lupus and other autoimmune conditions. However, most are in agreement that lupus is a result of a combination of both genetics and environment.
Since lupus does run in families, physicians believe that it is possible to have a genetic predisposition to the condition.
However, there are no known genes that cause the illness. It is most likely that having that genetic predisposition for the condition makes an individual more likely to develop it after coming into contact with something in their environment that triggers it.
It is also indicated that lupus can be triggered by certain hormones- due to the fact that women are more likely to develop it than women.
Medical professionals believe that estrogen actually regulates the condition’s progression because the symptoms of lupus tend to flare up just before menstrual periods and also during pregnancy.
There are certain environmental factors that have been known to trigger the symptoms of lupus. These factors include:
- Ultraviolet (sunlight) exposure
- Exposure to extreme levels of stress
- Medications and antibiotics, especially penicillin and sulfa based
- Infections, such as parvovirus (fifth disease), cytomegalovirus (CMV) hepatitis C, and in children, Epstein-Barr
- Exposure to chemical compounds such as trichloroethylene in dust and well water
The prognosis for lupus depends heavily on the organs that are involved, as well as the intensity of the inflammatory reaction. The course of the condition is typically chronic and relapsing, often with fairly long periods of remission in between flare-ups.
Typically, individuals with lupus have a fairly normal lifespan, with periodic trips to their physician and treatments with various drugs. Most of the problems that are more serious do not affect most individuals with the condition.
Death is caused by infections or renal failure. However, the good news is that with the right medications and by taking good care of themselves, individuals with a diagnosis of lupus can hold down jobs, have children, and lead fairly full lives.
Lupus Life Expectancy
It has been estimated that around 97 percent of individuals with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus will live for at least five years following the diagnosis.
Additionally, 90 percent of individuals diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus will live at least 10 years after receiving their diagnosis.