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What is Lupus?

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What is LupusLupus is a very serious, chronic (life-long), inflammatory, autoimmune disease. Autoimmune is a class of diseases that share one characteristic, they all involve the immune system turning against the body. Our immune systems are designed to fight off foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. With autoimmune diseases like Lupus, the immune system sees normal healthy cells as foreign invaders and attacks them. This causes the body to respond naturally with inflammation to expel the invader. This inflammation is what causes the pain, and discomfort as well as sometimes permanent damage to the cells.  Lupus is also a disease of flares (periods of activity) and remissions (periods of inactive or less active disease). 

There are several different kinds of Lupus:

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is the form of the disease most people are referring to when they say Lupus. It is the most common. The word systemic means the disease can affect the whole body including the skin, joints, tendons, blood vessels, muscles, organs, etc. Each Lupus patient is different some have a more mild form of SLE while others may have severe, life-threatening disease.

Life Threatening Lupus is defined as SLE affecting one or more vital organs such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, or liver.

Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus (CLE) is the form of the disease that affects the skin alone.  There are many different types of Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus.  The most common form is Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE).  Other forms include Subacute Lupus Erythematosus (SCLE), Tumid Lupus Erythematosus, Lupus Profundus, and Chilblain Lupus Erythematosus.  

Drug Induced Lupus (DIL or DILE) is a kind of Lupus that is cause by medications. The symptoms are similar to SLE and usually go away after the medication is discontinued.

Lupus in Overlap w/ other Connective Tissue Diseases is Lupus with one of the following other diseases as well: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Polymyositis-Dermatomyositis, Scleroderma, Sjogren's Syndrome, and various forms of Vasculitis.

Neonatal Lupus is a form of Lupus found in newborn babies born to mothers with Lupus, Sjogren's, or no disease at all. It is very important that women with Lupus be closely monitored by a physician during pregnancy. Affected infants often have a characteristic red rash. They sometimes develop liver disease, congenital heart block, and/or low blood platelet counts. These symptoms typically resolve within the first few months of life.

There is no cure for Lupus at this time. We also do not know what causes Lupus. Genetics, drugs, hormones, UV light, viruses, etc. are all possible contributing factors to SLE. People with a family member that has an autoimmune disease are far more likely to develop SLE than the general population. Women are also far more likely to develop the disease than men so hormonal factors are being studied. One thing that researchers are sure about is that none of the different types of Lupus are contagious.


Additional sources:

National Library of Medicine Online Tutorial: English or Espanol

Lupus Foundation of America - Introduction to Lupus

Information on this page and this entire website should never be substituted for medical advice.

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