Lupus, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus, is a long-term autoimmune disease. It causes inflammation throughout the body and can affect anyone. In this disease, the immune system of the body becomes hyperactive and attacks its own normal, healthy tissue. It is not a contagious disease and a person cannot transmit it sexually or in any other way to another person.
There is no recognized cure for lupus, however, effective treatments are available. Its symptoms comprise inflammation, and damage to the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, blood, and lungs. Due to the complex nature of lupus, people sometimes call it the “disease of 1,000 faces”
In the U.S, around 16,000 new cases of lupus have been reported each year. Moreover, around 1.5 million people may be living with this condition, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. The Foundation says that this disease is most likely to appear in women, in particular, between the ages of 15 and 44 years.
Causes of lupus
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disorder, but its exact cause is still unclear.
What goes wrong?
The immune system protects the body and fights off antigens, like bacteria, viruses, and germs by producing proteins called antibodies. These antibodies are produced by white blood cells or B lymphocytes.
In an autoimmune condition, like lupus, the immune system cannot differentiate between unwanted substances (or antigens) and normal tissue. Thus, it directs antibodies against both the normal tissue and the antigens. This causes pain, swelling, and tissue damage.
Antinuclear antibody (ANA) is the most common type of autoantibody which develops in people with lupus. The antinuclear antibody reacts with parts of the cell’s nucleus, the command center of the cell.
These autoantibodies circulate in the blood, but some cells of the body have walls permeable to let some autoantibodies through. They can then attack the DNA in these cell’s nucleus. This is why lupus affects some organs of the body and not others.
Why does the immune system go wrong?
Quite a lot of genetic factors perhaps influence the development of lupus. There are some genes in the body which help the immune system to function properly. In people with lupus, changes in these genes may stop the proper working of the immune system.
One probable theory relates to cell death, a natural process which occurs as the body recommences its cells, according to Genetics Home Reference. Some scientists also believe that, due to some genetic factors, the body does not get rid of cells which have died. Therefore, these dead cells may release substances causing the immune system to malfunction.
Symptoms of lupus
Signs and symptoms of lupus may come on abruptly or develop slowly. They may be temporary or permanent depending on the condition of a person. Basically, its symptoms occur in times of flare-ups. Between flare-ups, individuals usually experience times of remission, when there are few or no symptoms.
Lupus has a wide range of signs and symptoms because the disease can affect any part of the body. Signs of lupus vary from one individual to another. Some of the more common symptoms include;
- a loss of appetite and weight loss
- pain or swelling in joints and muscles
- swelling in the legs or around the eyes
- swollen glands, or lymph nodes
- skin rashes which may be due to bleeding under the skin
- mouth ulcers
- sensitivity to the sun
- chest pain upon deep breathing
- unusual hair loss
- pale toes or fingers from cold or stress
Lupus can range from mild to severe and should always be treated by a specialist. With proper medical care, most people with this disorder can lead to a full life.