Systematic lupus erythematosus, usually shortened to SLE or simply “lupus,” is a chronic inflammatory condition of the immune system. The blood produces unusual antibodies, and this causes the body to attack healthy tissues. It affects women more often than men, and it generally does not appear until the individual reaches adulthood.
Exact causes are unknown. However, it seems that certain factors like UV light exposure, heredity, medications, and viruses may play a role. From an epidemiological point of view, it also appears more frequently in people of Chinese, Japanese, and African American descent.
Lupus can affect any area of the body. Sometimes it is little more than a skin rash (lupus dermatitis) while other times it causes issues in the lungs, brain, heart, joints, nervous system, or kidneys. Some people will encounter potentially fatal problems with arteries becoming clogged, putting them at higher risk of heart failure, heart attacks, and stroke. Most patients, though, are able to live normal lives with the right treatment.
Everyone who is diagnosed with lupus experiences different symptoms of varying severity. Similarly, they often appear as flare-ups and then disappear for a time before resurfacing. Some of the more frequent symptoms include:
The dominating theory within the medical community now is that there are multiple genes which can have an effect on the development of Lupus. Gene polymorphisms (a polymorphism might have an effect such as that of the hair color differentiation) are what influence Lupus and about 30 have now been linked to the condition. Out of these 30 gene polymorphisms, some are relatively tentative as to the exact effect that they may have on the development and severity of the autoimmune disease while others are more solidly confirmed through the studies that have been done. Genes which are known to have an impact on the health of the human immune system are usually well understood, with the Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) family being the primary of these. Sex chromosomes can have an effect since it is a condition which occurs more frequently in women, and there is a myriad of environmental factors which can be negative in nature as well. Estrogen can play a key role in the development of Lupus because of the aforementioned fact that 9 out of 10 people with it are female. Estrogen helps to create a strong immune system in women, and so it is quite possible that there is a link waiting to be fully proven.
Lupus cannot be cured, but there are several treatments to help patients improve their quality of life. The goal is to reduce the frequency of flare-ups and keep symptoms under control so they affect the person as little as possible. Some people will find certain lifestyle changes, such as a different diet or better protection from the sun, to be beneficial. Others will find it easier to manage the condition through the use of steroids, immunosuppressants, and anti-inflammatory medications.
Since Lupus is considered to be caused by genes, it is difficult if not impossible to prevent at present. The only thing studies have shown as possibly being a factor that can be influenced by human behavior is the amount of tobacco consumption. It may be that the chance of developing Lupus is reduced if cigarette smoking is avoided as well as other tobacco use. This is a general good health practice in any case. Some researchers also identify environmental triggers, which can include infections and UV light; however, since many may not know they have the genetic makeup for this disease until in contact with a trigger, it is largely impossible to avoid them. Nevertheless, stress-relieving techniques such as exercise and meditation can help manage the symptoms. However, while currently non-preventable, science may one day make genetic detection and alterations possible in the future that could reduce the prevalence of Lupus.