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The Cruel Mystery Disease – Lupus.

Lupus Awareness Month:  May

  • Lupus is more pervasive and severe than most people think.
  • There is a devastating impact that the public doesn’t realize.
  • Research shows that 2/3 of the public knows little or nothing about lupus.

What Is Lupus?

  • A chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body – skin, joints, and/or organs.
    • Chronic means that the signs and symptoms tend to last longer than 6 weeks – often for many years.
  • In lupus, something goes wrong with the immune system (the part of the body that fights off viruses, bacteria, and germs).
    • Normally, our immune systems produce proteins called “antibodies” which protect the body from these invaders.
  • “Autoimmunity” means your immune system cannot tell the difference between foreign invaders and your body’s healthy tissues (auto means “self”)…
    • As a result, it creates autoantibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue.
    • These autoantibodies cause inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body.

Quick Facts About Lupus:

  • Lupus is not contagious.
  • Lupus is not like, or related to, cancer.  Cancer is a condition of malignant, abnormal tissues – lupus is an autoimmune disease.  However, some treatments for lupus may include immunosuppressant drugs that are also used in chemotherapy.
  • Lupus is not like, or related to, HIV (Human Immune Deficiency Virus) or AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).  In HIV or AIDS the immune system is underactive; in lupus the immune system is overactive.
  • Lupus can range from mild to life-threatening and should always be treated by a doctor.  Whit good medical care, most people with lupus can lead a full life.
  • More than 16,000 new cases of lupus are reported annually across the country.
  • Research estimates that at least 1.5 million Americans have lupus.
  • It is believed that 5 million people throughout the world have a form of lupus.
  • Lupus strikes mostly women of childbearing age.  However, men, women, children, and teens can develop lupus also.
    • Most people with lupus develop the disease between the ages of 15-44.
  • Women of color are 2-3 times more likely to develop lupus than Caucasians…
    • However, people of all races and ethnic groups can develop lupus.

What Causes Lupus?

Hormones

  • Hormones are the body’s messengers – they regulate many body functions.
  • 9 of every 10 occurrences of lupus is in females – researchers have begun to look at the relationship between estrogen and lupus.
    • Men and women both produce estrogen, but the production is much greater in females.
  • Many women have more lupus symptoms before menstrual periods and/or during pregnancy when estrogen production is high…
    • this may indicate that estrogen somehow regulates the severity of lupus.
  • However, no causal effect has been proven between estrogen (or any other hormone) and lupus.
    • Studies of women with lupus taking estrogen in either birth control pills or as pot menopausal therapy have shown no significant increase in lupus disease activity.

Genetics

  • Researchers have no identified more than 50 genes that they associate with lupus.
    • These genes are more commonly seen in people with lupus than in those without the disease.
    • Most of the genes have not been shown to directly cause lupus, but they are believed to contribute to it.
  • Most cases show that genes alone are not enough to cause the disease – as seen when:
    • Twins are raised in the same environment and have the same inherited features, yet only one develops lupus.
    • However, when one of two identical twins has lupus, there is an increased chance that the other twin will also develop the disease – 30% chance for identicals; 5-10% for fraternals.
  • Lupus can develop in people with no family history of it, but there is likely to be other autoimmune diseases in some family members.
  • Certain ethnic groups (people of African, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Island descent) have a greater risk of developing lupus – may be related to genes they have in common.

Environment

  • Most researchers today think that an environmental agent (such as virus or chemical) randomly encountered by a genetically susceptible individual acts to trigger lupus…
    • Researchers have not yet identified a specific environmental agent – but the hypothesis remains likely.
  • Most commonly cited environmental elements that can trigger lupus and cause flares:
    • ultraviolet light (UVA & UVB)
    • infections (including the effects of Epstein-Barr virus)
    • exposure to silica dust in agricultural or industrial settings

Other Examples of Potential Environmental Triggers Include:

  • Ultraviolet rays from sun and/or fluorescent light bulbs
  • Sulfa drugs which make a person more sensitive to sunlight
  • Sun-sensitizing tetracycline drugs
  • Penicillin or other antibiotics like:  amoxicillin, ampicillin, cloxacillin
  • Infections, colds, or viral illnesses
  • Exhaustion
  • Emotional stress
  • Any other stress to the body (i.e., surgery, physical harm, injury, pregnancy, giving birth)