Lupus is a lifelong autoimmune disease. With autoimmune diseases, the body’s immune system cannot tell the difference between viruses, bacteria, and other germs and the body’s healthy cells, tissues, or organs. Because of this, the immune system attacks and destroys these healthy cells, tissues, or organs.
Who Gets Lupus?
Anyone can get lupus. It is difficult to know how many people in the United States have lupus because the symptoms are different for every person. It is estimated that 1.5 million Americans have the disease. About 90% of the diagnoses are in women ages 15 to 44.
African American women are three times more likely to get lupus than white women. The autoimmune disease is also more common in Hispanic, Asian, and Native American and Alaskan Native women. African American and Hispanic women usually get it at a younger age and have more severe symptoms, including kidney problems, than women of other groups. African Americans with lupus also have more problems with seizures, strokes, and dangerous swelling of the heart. Hispanic women with the disease also have more heart problems than women of other groups. Researchers think that genes play a role in how lupus affects minority women.
What is the Most Common Type?
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is the most common and most serious type of lupus. Estimates range from 161,000 to 322,000 Americans have SLE. SLE can be mild or severe and affects all parts of the body.
Common symptoms include fatigue, hair loss, sun sensitivity, painful and swollen joints, unexplained fever, skin rashes, and kidney problems.
What Causes Lupus?
Researchers are still studying possible causes of lupus. The disease is not contagious. Genes play an important role but even someone with one or more of the genes associated with the autoimmune disease has only a small chance of getting it.
Researchers are studying possible causes such as:
- The environment. Sunlight, stress, smoking, certain medicines, and viruses may trigger symptoms in people who are most likely to get lupus due to their genes.
- Hormones such as estrogen. Lupus is more common in women during their childbearing years when estrogen levels are highest.
- Problems with the immune system.
What can I do to control my symptoms?
The best way to keep your symptoms under control is by following your treatment plan and taking care of yourself. These steps can help:
- See your doctors regularly.
- Reduce stress by setting realistic goals for yourself.
- Limit the time you spend in the sun and in fluorescent and halogen light.
- Choose healthy foods most of the time.
- Get enough sleep and rest.
- Exercise moderately when you’re feeling up to it.
- Build a support system made up of people you trust and can go to for help.
Despite your best efforts to follow your treatment plan and take good care of yourself, you may have times when your lupus symptoms are worse. Talk to your doctor about ways to relieve symptoms when this happens.