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Lupus Symptoms and Causes

About Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus)

Systemic lupus erythematosus, also known as SLE, or simply lupus, is a disease that is characterized by periodic episodes of inflammation of and damage to the joints, tendons, other connective tissues, and organs, including the heart, lungs, blood vessels, brain, kidneys, and skin. The heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain are the organs most affected. Lupus affects each individual differently and the effects of the illness range from mild to severe. Lupus can potentially be fatal.

The majority of people who have lupus are young women (late teens to 45). This may be due to the fact that estrogen (a female hormone) seems to be associated with lupus. Lupus affects more African-Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans than Caucasian Americans. Lupus in children occurs most often at the age of 15 and older. According to the Arthritis Foundation, about 25,000 children and adolescents have lupus or a related disorder.

The disease is known to have periods of flare-ups and periods of remission (partial or complete lack of symptoms). Children with lupus can have a large degree of kidney involvement. The severity of the kidney involvement can alter the survival rate of patients with lupus. In some cases, kidney damage is so severe it leads to kidney failure.

Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus) Symptoms

Lupus symptoms are usually chronic and relapsing. The following are the most common symptoms of lupus. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Malar rash — a rash shaped like a butterfly that is usually found on the bridge of the nose and the cheeks.
  • Discoid rash — a raised rash found on the head, arms, chest, or back.
  • Fever
  • Inflammation of the joints
  • Sunlight sensitivity
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Fluid around the lungs, heart, or other organs
  • Kidney problems
  • Low white blood cell or low platelet count
  • Raynaud's phenomenon — a condition in which the blood vessels of the fingers and toes go into spasm when triggered by factors such as cold, stress, or illness.
  • Weight loss
  • Nerve or brain dysfunction
  • Anemia

Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus) Causes

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder, which means the body's immune system attacks its own healthy cells and tissues. Lupus is considered to be a multifactorial condition. Multifactorial inheritance means that "many factors" are involved in causing a health problem. The factors are usually both genetic and environmental, where a combination of genes from both parents, in addition to unknown environmental factors, produce the trait or condition. Often one gender (either males or females) is affected more frequently than the other in multifactorial traits. Multifactorial traits do recur in families because they are partly caused by genes. Females are affected with lupus three to ten times more often than males.