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What causes lupus

What is Lupus? Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Jan 30, 2023

What is lupus? Simply put, lupus is an autoimmune disease whereby your own immune cells incorrectly attack your own normal cells throughout your body - especially within your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs. On top of that, it has symptoms resembling some other illnesses, which can make it difficult to diagnose. The most iconic sign of lupus is the malar (or butterfly-shaped rash) on your nose and under your eyes.. Our doctors diagnose lupus by looking for early warning signs, such as this rash, as well as through urine and blood tests. 

Since it is a chronic disease and it’s incurable, the best you can do is treat the symptoms. Although lupus may be incurable, the proper treatment can make a difference in your quality of life and prevent the illness from progressing.

Types of Lupus 

Generally speaking, there are a couple different types of lupus out there:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): This is the most common type of lupus. When talking about lupus (in general), chances are that you’re referring to SLE, which can cause damage to your entire body. 
  • Cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE): This is the easiest-to-recognize form of lupus, seeing as how it attacks the skin. 
  • Drug-induced lupus: In some cases, drug exposure may lead to the development of SLE. This is the most straightforward scenario in which an environmental trigger leads to the development of lupus. However, the symptoms will likely go away within a few days after you stop taking these drugs.
  • Neonatal lupus (NL): In some cases, antibodies may passively transfer from the mother to the fetus. In this scenario, neonatal lupus may develop. Keep in mind, nonetheless, that NL is pretty rare.

With these out of the way, let’s move to our next talking point…

What Causes Lupus?

Like with other autoimmune diseases, the cause of lupus cannot be traced to a single factor. Most lupus specialists believe it’s caused by a combination of genetic markers and environmental factors.

In other words, people with genetic predispositions are more likely to develop lupus if they’re exposed to factors like:

  • Infections
  • Sunlight
  • Medications

Genetic markers are not the only risk factors. So, when looking up “What is lupus?” it might be a good idea to look up risk groups, as well. For instance, it’s noticed that lupus is more common in women. Also, people between 15 and 45 seem to be the most susceptible. It’s also worth mentioning that African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to develop lupus. 

What Are the Symptoms of Lupus?

Lupus symptoms are numerous and may appear entirely randomly. Mainly, they depend on the body symptoms that the disease has affected.

For instance, what is lupus nephritis? It’s when lupus antibodies attack your kidneys, thus causing inflammation, high blood pressure, or even kidney failure.

Some of the most common lupus signs and symptoms are:

  • Skin lesions (that get worse when exposed to the sun) may appear
  • Fingers and toes that change color (blue,purple,white) when you’re under stress
  • Fatigue and shortness of breath
  • Joint pain
  • Chest pain
  • Dry eyes
  • Headaches, confusion, and memory loss

As you can see, the problem lies in the fact that symptoms like chest pain, dry eyes, and shortness of breath can be a symptom of many other different diseases, making lupus often times difficult to diagnose

Some wonder, what is the first sign of lupus? The answer is that any first warning sign or symptom of lupus can be completely random, but in many cases, it will be either an unexplained rash, an ongoing fever, persistent fatigue, or diffuse joint pain or swelling. If you experience any of these, you need to look for professional medical assistance.

What Is the Treatment for Lupus? 

So, is lupus curable? No, but it is treatable. For this, you can use several different methods.

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs (over-the-counter) should be your first step in fighting lupus. Keep in mind, however, that they will be effective only if the inflammation is mild.
  • Seeing how lupus causes inflammation, corticosteroids may greatly help. They will reduce swelling and tenderness, and they will reduce pain. Lupus symptoms usually respond quickly to corticosteroids. However, long-term steroid use has many side effects. 
  • In some scenarios, even antimalarial drugs have been known to help. The reason behind this is that (interestingly enough) lupus and malaria share quite a few symptoms.
  • Immunosuppressive agents are also quite effective but can have many side effects and, therefore, used only as a last resort. The logic behind this is the following: since your immune system attacks your body, you’re weakening the strength of these attacks by weakening the immune system. The problem is that cutting your immune system makes you susceptible to other infections.

Other than just figuring out “what is lupus disease” and learning “what type of medication works,” it’s just as crucial that you know a thing or two about living with lupus.

  • For instance, previously, we’ve mentioned that stress may intensify some symptoms. So, trying your best to live a stress-free life is a great starting point.
  • Your immune system is already a problem, so try to get as much rest as possible and eat a clean diet.
  • Seeing how exposure to the sun can make matters worse, you might want to limit exposure to sun.

While it’s far from simple, living with lupus is manageable. After you form the proper habits, you probably won’t even think about it.

Wrap Up

So, what is lupus? It’s a vicious autoimmune disease, but this is far from the most crucial question you should ask. It’s far more critical to learn how to recognize, treat, and live with it. Fortunately, there’s much information available on the subject, provided that you’re ready and willing to do the research. Still, it’s always best to seek advice from a doctor.

Find an expert in rheumatological conditions, such as lupus, at the Orthopedic Institute of New Jersey and ask away.

This article was reviewed and approved by an orthopedic surgeon as we place a high premium on accuracy for our patients and potential patients.