Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation (swelling). Autoimmune conditions occur when the immune system attacks the body's own cells because they are mistaken for antigens (foreign substance that causes an immune response). Autoimmunity is present in all healthy individuals, to some extent. This is the result of genetically defective immune cells, which may develop during cellular reproduction. However, healthy individuals are able to suppress defective lymphocytes (immune system cells) that mistakenly destroy body cells.
Patients who have lupus can experience symptoms in any area of the body, including the skin, heart, lungs, kidneys, joints and/or nervous system. When only the skin is involved, the condition is called discoid lupus. When internal organs are involved, the condition is called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The condition is not always progressive. Researchers estimate that about 10% of discoid lupus patients eventually develop SLE.
While the exact cause of lupus remains unknown, researchers believe that genetics, certain medications, hormones, viruses or ultraviolet light may contribute to the development of the disease.
Researchers estimate that women are eight times more likely to develop either discoid or systemic lupus than men, which suggest that hormones play a role in the pathogenesis of the disease. While the disease can occur at any age, it usually develops in individuals who are 20 to 45 years old. It is more frequent in African Americans and individuals of Japanese or Chinese descent, which suggests that genetics may be involved.
Researchers estimate that about one out of 10,000 Americans develops SLE each year.
There is currently no cure for lupus. Instead, treatment focuses on alleviating the symptoms of the disease. Patients who have mild symptoms may not need any treatment, or they may require intermittent use of anti-inflammatory medications (like ibuprofen). Individuals who have serious cases of lupus, which involve internal organ damage, may require high doses of corticosteroids, along with other medications that suppress the body's immune system (like methotrexate).
Prognosis varies depending on whether the disease affects internal organs. If the disease is limited to the skin, patients can live relatively normal lives with minimal problems. However, patients who have more severe lupus may experience kidney failure, heart attack or stroke.
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