The majority of lupus cases occur sporadically, affecting people with no family history of lupus.
Lupus is an autoimmune disorder, whereby the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs causing an inflammation.
This inflammation can cause many different body systems and organs including the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, brain, or blood cells. However, lupus tends to be primarily localised and not always systemic.
People often experience mild versions of lupus, but without proper and timely diagnosis and treatment, it can become severe.
As things currently stand, there is no known cure for lupus and treatments are usually targeted at reducing inflammation and treating symptoms.
Lupus is often difficult to diagnose given that its symptoms mimic those of other conditions.
The most distinctive symptom of lupus is a facial rash resembling the wings of a butterfly. This rash often covers both cheeks and occurs in the majority (but not all) cases of lupus.
While no two cases of lupus are the same, the most common signs and symptoms include:
- A high fever
- Body aches
- Skin lesions
- Joint pain
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Memory loss and confusion
Symptoms and causes
People with lupus also tend to be sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) light, which is a type of radiation that is in sunlight and certain types of artificial light. This photosensitivity can trigger symptoms if the individual is exposed to sunlight.
Symptoms can include rashes, fatigue, internal swelling, and joint pain. Therefore, if you have lupus and are planning to be outside in sunlight, it is extremely important to be wearing sun-protective clothing and sunscreen.
While no single gene or group of genes has yet been completely proven to cause lupus, it does appear in certain families showing that some people are born with a genetic tendency to develop lupus.
The majority of lupus cases, however, occur sporadically meaning they affect people with no family history of lupus.
A study recently published in Nature found that there was a specific variant of the gene TLR7 that caused lupus in mice. Evidence from this study shows that this gene might have a role in the development of the disease. This can have major implications for treatment, but more research needs to be done in the area.
Certain ethnic groups have been shown to have a greater risk of developing lupus including people of Asian, African and Hispanic descent. This further re-emphasises the genetic link to lupus.
In addition, women are more likely than men to develop lupus, but the disease can be more severe in intensity for men.
Although lupus can occur at any age, it is most commonly diagnosed in individuals between the age of 15-44. Diagnosing lupus usually involves a conversation with your doctor about your medical history and symptoms followed by a blood test and urine test. The physician may ask for more tests if necessary.
While the exact cause of lupus remains unknown, experts believe it may be a combination of multiple underlying factors including environmental factors (such as smoking, stress and exposure to toxins such as silica dust), hormones, genetics, infections and/or certain medications.
Types of lupus
The most common type of lupus is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
This type of lupus gets its name based on its characteristic that it affects several different organ systems of the body, including the kidneys, skin, heart, joints, nervous system, and lungs.
SLE can range in intensity from mild to severe and typically, symptoms get worse over time before improving. The periods when symptoms get worse are referred to as flares, and when they improve the periods are known as remissions.
Other types of lupus include:
- Cutaneous lupus is type of lupus that is limited to the skin. Cutaneous lupus can cause rashes and permanent lesions that can, in turn, cause scarring. There are several subtypes of cutaneous lupus including: acute, subacute and chronic cutaneous lupus.
- Drug-induced lupus is lupus that is induced by the use of certain prescription medications. Research has shown that this type of lupus develops through the long-term use of some types of prescription drugs such as antimicrobials, drugs for high blood pressure such as hydralazine and arrhythmia drugs such as quinidine.
- Neonatal lupus is a type of lupus is extremely rare. It affects infants whose biological parents have certain autoimmune antibodies, which are then transmitted from parent to fetus through the placenta. Most babies will have symptoms that will go away after a few months, while others may have developmental issues in the heart. If these antibodies are present during your pregnancy, you will need to be followed very closely by a rheumatologist and a high-risk obstetrician that specialises in fetal-maternal medicine.
While lupus is a condition that affects your health, you can manage your quality of life by taking your medications and prioritising overall wellness through staying active, eating healthy, and by managing stress and getting enough rest.