What is Lupus?

If you are here you are probably somehow touched by lupus, whether it is you or a loved one you are doing the right thing by learning all you can… so let’s get started.

What is Lupus? Lupus is a chronic inflammatory illness caused by autoimmunity. Lupus is also defined as a chronic autoimmune disease. 



Autoimmunity or the autoimmune disease is a condition in which the body is turned against itself with the cells of the immune system becoming hyperactive, attacking the normal healthy tissues in the process. 

For patients with lupus, the body develops unusual antibodies that are targeted against the body’s healthy tissues uncompromisingly. What this means is that this autoimmune disease sends antibodies to fight tissues around the heart, lungs, skin, joints, kidneys, as well as the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous systems.

As a result of the disease’s complexity, lupus has been regarded as the disease of 1,000 faces.

According to the Lupus Foundation, at least 1.5 million people live with lupus in the US alone, and about 16,000 new cases are reported annually. The foundation further notes that the condition is more prevalent in females than males, especially women aged between 15 and 44 years.

While this condition has been around for centuries, it’s only gained attention from the public following its diagnosis in individuals in the public eye. In 2015, Selena Gomez was diagnosed with lupus, and by coming out to the world, she’s allowed other people with lupus to speak about it and even seek treatment. Selena’s diagnosis was made in her late teens, and she didn’t hide the fact that she was being treated for lupus. 

Unfortunately, there is still isn’t much known about lupus and you might have heard some confusing information about the illnesses. For example, you might have heard that lupus is contagious and that it could be transmitted sexually. However, this is not true. Lupus isn’t a contagious disease, and it cannot be transmitted sexually.

Before we look at the symptoms of lupus, it’s important to note that lupus comes in different forms which means that two people with lupus do not necessarily have the same form of lupus.

Understanding lupus is important and could be helpful if you need to educate others, and if you’re ill, this information could help in the management of the illness. There is also the fact that lupus knowledge helps caregivers give their loved ones or patients the best care.

Why and how does Lupus occur?

Naturally, your immune system works to protect the body by fighting off antigens like bacteria, viruses, parasites, and germs. For the immune system to put up this fight, the cells of the immune system – B Lymphocytes or white blood cells produce antibodies that try to neutralize the antigens, often preventing diseases.

For someone with an autoimmune condition like lupus, things are different and the immune system is unable to differentiate healthy tissue from antigens and pathogens. The result is an immune system that directs antibodies against healthy cells and tissue, as well as antigens, causing tissue damage, pain, and swelling. While the antibodies circulate in the blood, some get through cell walls into the cells where the antibodies attack DNA in the cells’ nuclei – hence the effects of lupus on some organs and not in others.

Why would the immune system malfunction?

Studies show that there are genetic factors responsible for the development of some forms of lupus such as the Systemic lupus erythematosus. It is believed that some genes boost the function of the immune system, but in people with SLE, genetic changes occur, stopping the cells of the immune system from working well.

One theory from the Genetics Home Reference, cell death/ apoptosis could be responsible for the malfunctioning of the immune system in that the body doesn’t eliminate the dead cells. The dead cells cause the malfunctioning of the immune system in the long run.

Which are the main types of lupus?

There are four main types of lupus, and we’ll discuss them in this section. They include:

  1. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)

SLE represents the most common type of lupus reported. This form of lupus is a systemic condition that affects the whole body, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. 

Since this type of lupus affects the whole body, it is the most severe type of lupus. It often affects body organs and organ systems, and it causes inflammation of the skin, joints, kidneys, blood, lungs, the heart, or even a combination of these organs. SLE goes through cycles and during remission, patients have no symptoms at all. On the other, flare-ups make the disease active and the symptoms of the disease manifest.

  1. Discoid lupus erythematosus/ DLE

Discoid lupus erythematosus, DLE, or cutaneous lupus is different from SLE in that this type of lupus manifests as inflammation on the skin. In most cases, you will have a rash on the face, scalp, and the neck and the affected areas often become scaly and thick. Scarring of these areas is also not uncommon, and the rash could last from a few days to several years. Reoccurrence is common.

Unlike SLE, DLE doesn’t affect the internal organs although about 10% of individuals with DLE often develop SLE, as reported by the Lupus Foundation of America. Unfortunately, even with this information, it’s not clear whether the persons with DLE already had SLE or if there is clinical proof of the progression of DLE to SLE.

  1. Subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus

In this type of lupus, patients have skin lesions appearing on parts of the body exposed to the sun. These lesions don’t cause scarring.

  1. Drug-induced lupus

Studies show that in about 10% of the person who has SLE, their symptoms appear as a reaction to certain prescription medications. The Genetics Home Reference puts the number of drugs that could cause the condition at 80. The unfortunate bit is that some of these drugs are necessary for the treatment and management of high blood pressure, seizures and thyroid diseases. The drugs also include antibiotics, thyroid medications, oral contraceptives, and antifungals.

The most common drugs that are associated with drug-induced lupus include Isoniazid used in treating tuberculosis; Procainamide for heart arrhythmias, and Hydralazine for hypertension.

On the bright side, drug-induced lupus goes away when one stops taking the medication.

  1. Neonatal Lupus

While most babies that are born to parents with SLE are healthy, about 1% of these women or women with antibodies for lupus will have babies with neonatal lupus. In most cases, the mother will have Sjögren’s syndrome, SLE, or no symptoms at all. 

Symptoms of lupus

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Body aches
  • Rashes
  • Skin Lesions
  • Chronic dry eyes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sensitivity to the sun
  • Arthritis
  • Unusual loss of hair
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Purple or pale fingers/ toes
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion and memory loss

Causes and Risk Factors of Lupus

  • Hormones

With lupus predominant in females than males aged between 15-44 years, it’s highly likely that the disease has some hormonal roots. To be specific, estrogen could play a significant role in the development of lupus.

  • Genetics

Race and family histories increase your risk of developing lupus. The disease is more common in people of color.

  • Environment

Smoking, medication and viral infections increase your risk of developing lupus

  • Gut microbiome

Studies are currently ongoing, but it seems that gut microbiota increases the risk of lupus.

Treatment and management of lupus

While there is no cure for lupus, there are medications and home remedies that help in the prevention and the management of flares, as well as the ones that reduce the risk of damage to internal organs.

Other medications are provided to balance hormones, reduce swelling and pain, to regulate immune function, reduce infection risk, control cholesterol, reduce organ or joint damage, and to manage blood pressure.

Home remedies include:

  1. A healthy, mostly vegan diet
  2. Application of cold and heat
  3. Meditation and yoga for relaxation
  4. Regular exercises
  5. Avoid exposure to the sun 
  6. Avoid stress

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