Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that can cause damage to almost any part of the body. It occurs when the immune system attacks its own tissues and organs. The inflammation associated with lupus can affect all different parts of the body such as the kidneys, brain, heart, joints, lungs, and skin. Lupus may be mild to life-threatening.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for lupus. But there are treatment options available that can manage the symptoms. It is estimated that there are 200,000 to three million cases of lupus each year in the United States.
The immune system normally works by defending and protecting our bodies from foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. Our immune system produces proteins called antibodies which are in charge of fighting off harmful antigens.
But with an autoimmune disease, like lupus, your immune system cannot differentiate between our healthy cells and the harmful cells that are attacking our tissues and organs. The autoimmune disease actually produces antibodies that attack the healthy cells, which is what causes the chronic inflammation within the body.
The risk factors for lupus depend on your sex, age, and race. Being female increases your risk of developing lupus. While lupus can affect both men and women, women are affected most. In fact, 90 percent of people who are diagnosed with lupus are women. People between the ages of 15 and 44 are most likely to develop lupus. Lupus is more common if you are African-American, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian.
The signs and symptoms of lupus vary because every case of lupus is different. The signs and symptoms of lupus are not specific to the disease. The severity of the symptoms can change; at times they can be much worse and make you feel sicker, while other times they can subside and you will feel much better.
The signs and symptoms a person experiences will vary depending on which part of the body the disease is affecting. The most common signs and symptoms include a rash in the shape of a butterfly that spreads across the cheeks and nose, shortness of breath, chest pain, fever, confusion, memory loss, headaches, fatigue, pain, stiffness, and swelling in your joints, skin lesions (which are caused by and/or made worse when exposed to sunlight), fingers and toes that turn white or blue when exposed to cold or during stressful periods, or dry eyes.