Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, blood and kidneys. The immune system -- designed to protect the body against viruses, bacteria and other foreign materials -- produces antibodies that attack the person's own tissues and organs.
Because lupus presents in a variety of ways and mimics the symptoms of other diseases, diagnosis is often difficult. The more common symptoms of lupus include joint and muscle pain, extreme fatigue, persistent low-grade fever (less than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), "butterfly" rash across the bridge of the nose and cheeks, weight loss, hair loss, photosensitivity (sun or light sensitivity), pleurisy (pain in the chest on deep breathing), headache and mouth or nose ulcers.
Although the cause of lupus remains unknown, researchers believe that evidence points to heredity, hormones, immune system dysfunction, infections (including viruses), or some external environmental occurrence. Scientists suspect that individuals are genetically predisposed to lupus and that the disease remains quiet until a trigger sets the disease process in motion.
Sunlight, infection, injury, surgery, stress and exhaustion can trigger lupus "flares" (active states of the disease).
Lupus affects 1 out of every 185 Americans. Although lupus can occur at any age -- and in either sex -- 90% of those living with lupus are female; a diagnosis is most often made during the child-bearing years, between the ages of 15 and 45. African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans are at particular risk.
Only 10% of those diagnosed with lupus will have a close relative (parent or sibling) who already has or may develop lupus. Approximately 5% of the children born to individuals will develop the illness.
According to a 1994 market research study conducted by Bruskin / Goldring Research, between 1.4 million and 2 million people have been diagnosed with lupus. This disease is more prevalent than multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, sickle cell anemia and leukemia.
Lupus ranges from mild to life-threatening. Most lupus patients can control their illness by educating themselves, carefully monitoring the disease, and adhering to both appropriate medication and complementary therapy.
New lupus research brings unexpected results and increased hope each year. With current methods of therapy, 80-90% of those living with lupus can look forward to a normal lifespan.
Lupus is NOT infectious.