What is LUPUS?

A chronic disorder that can harm skin, joints or any other organ of the body. The condition causes the immune system to become autoimmune and makes the body's immune system to attack the healthy cells. The signs and symptoms may last more than six weeks and may even go for many years.

An immune system is the body's defense system that takes on the viruses, bacteria, germs, outside invaders like the flu and is responsible for the production of proteins known as 'antibodies' which keep the body safe from these invaders. 

In Lupus, the whole process of "Autoimmunity" makes your immune system incapable of differentiating between the outside invaders and healthy tissues of the body. The result is the creation of autoantibodies which is capable of attacking and destroying healthy tissue. 

These autoantibodies result in inflammation and can even cause pain or damage to several organs of the body.

Recent research suggests that genes are a risk factor and play an important role in the development of the disease but as such genes are not the only deciding factor of who gets lupus. There are many other likely factors that trigger the disease.

 

FACTS ABOUT LUPUS

  • Lupus doesn't spread from person to person and it is true even in sexual contact. There is no possibility of you getting it from someone who is already diagnosed with Lupus.
  • People often confuse lupus with cancer since the same immunosuppressant drugs used in chemotherapy are also used for lupus treatment but there is no relation between the two.When the infectious, abnormal tissues rapidly spread into surrounding tissues, the condition develops into cancer while the lupus disorder  is an autoimmune disease.  
  • The immune system is hypoactive in HIV or AIDS while the immune system is hyperactive in lupus.
  • The threat to life in lupus range from mild to severe conditions. However, if proper medical attention is given, most people with lupus will be able to lead a good life.
  • There are more than 16,000 new lupus cases reported annually across the world.
  • At least 1.6 million Americans have lupus. Exact figures of the people with lupus are unknown as there are not many studies to give us the exact number of people with lupus.
  • More than 6 million people across the world have one or another type of lupus.
  • Lupus mostly affects pregnant women or women of childbearing age. But men, women, children, and teenagers also develop lupus and the people between the ages of 15-44 are more likely to develop the disease.
  • It is believed that women having bright skin color have twice the chances to develop lupus. As per the statistics of the US Health, women are more prone to develop the disease with almost nine out of ten adults diagnosed with the disease.Lupus is more common in women of African American, Asian, and Native American descent than in Caucasian women.

 

What causes lupus?

The exact cause of the disease still remains unknown, but there is enough evidence to suggest that environmental factors, genetics, epigenetics (changes in chromosomes that affect gene activity), viruses, and infections are some of the factors that may play a key role. Studies are still going on to know about the effect of these variables and to improve our understanding of causes, that may help to enhance diagnosis, prognosis, prevention, and treatment.

Scientists found out that the main trigger of the disorder is the combination of both inside and outside factors including genetics, hormones and environment.

 

Hormones

Hormones are considered as the messenger of the body. Their main function is to regulate the body’s functions.  

Scientists discovered a correlation between estrogen and lupus in nine of every 10 tested cases of lupus in females. Since both men and women have estrogen production, the number of estrogens is much greater in females. It is believed that women tend to have more symptoms of lupus before each menstrual periods and/or during pregnancy, the time when estrogen production is relatively high. This gives us an indication that estrogen somehow controls the severity of lupus.

Even so, there is no causal effect that has been established between estrogen and lupus. There are studies which confirm that women with lupus taking estrogen in the form of birth control pills or as postmenopausal therapy to have an increase in the disease activity. Scientists are still trying to develop their research around the differences in the hormone levels of men and women hormone levels, that may shed light on the reason behind women being more prone to lupus and other autoimmune diseases.

 

Genetics

Recent studies have now come up with more than 50 genes which they claim to have a connection with lupus. These discovered genes are more commonly seen in people diagnosed with lupus than others without the disease. While a large number of these genes doesn't cause lupus but are believed to contribute to it.

This genetic factor has some exceptions, as in the case of twins who are raised in the same environment and have the same inherited features yet one develops lupus. Even in such condition, when one of two identical twins has lupus, the chances of the other twin developing the disease increases too.

The disease can also develop in people who have no family history of the disease but have a history of the autoimmune diseases in some of the family members.

Research suggests certain ethnic groups like African, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Island descent to have increased chances of developing lupus, that again may be linked to genes they have in common.

 

Environment

Researchers in a study concluded that an environmental agent, such as a virus or possibly a chemical, randomly encountered by a genetically susceptible individual, acts as a trigger to inflict the disease. Specific environmental agent hasn't been identified yet but the hypothesis remains likely.

They were unable to specifically find the environmental elements that cause lupus and flares but ultraviolet light (UVA and UVB); infections, and exposure to silica dust in agricultural or industrial settings are some of the factors that may contribute to lupus development.

Some of the other established potential environmental triggers include:

  • Ultraviolet rays from the sun and/or fluorescent light bulbs
  • Sulfa drugs that cause the person to become more sensitive to the sun.
  • Penicillin or other antibiotic drugs 
  • Infection, colds or viral illnesses
  • Exhaustion
  • Emotional stress that may arise due to divorce, illness, death of closed family member, or other life complications
  • Any other body stress as a result of surgery, physical harm, injury, pregnancy, or giving birth

 

Read more about the symptoms and complications of Lupus:Understand Lupus: Symptoms and Complications