As the prototypical autoimmune disease, lupus occurs when the immune system malfunctions. In people with lupus, the immune system loses its ability to distinguish between these foreign substances, called antigens, and the body’s own cells and tissue. The self-antibodies create immune complexes which lodge in the body’s tissue, causing inflammation and organ damage.
No one knows the exact cause of lupus. It is believed that there are environmental, hormonal and possibly genetic factors that all play a part. The relationships are unclear and this may be why lupus symptoms vary widely from person to person.
There are several forms of true lupus. Systemic lupus can affect nearly any organ or organ system of the body. Cutaneous lupus affects the skin. Drug-induced lupus is brought on by certain medications, and resolves when the offending medication is discontinued. Neonatal lupus affects the fetus and can range from a rash that disappears with no ill effects to an irregular heart beat that requires the infant to have a pacemaker.
Lupus is more than joint pain, fatigue and skin rashes – common symptoms of the disease. Inflammation caused by lupus can damage the heart, lungs, kidneys and brain, resulting in significant disability or death. Women with lupus have a five- to ten-fold increased risk of coronary heart disease compared to the general population. Between 30 and 50 percent of people with lupus will have kidney disease. And people with lupus are at much greater risk for stroke and seizures than the general population.
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