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Department of Medicine

Department of Medicine

  Division of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology

CENTERS AND INSTITUTES


Lupus


Lupus

DEFINITION

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or lupus, is a chronic inflammatory disease, which can affect virtually any organ system of the body, but mostly involves the skin, joints, kidney, brain, blood, and heart. Lupus is an "autoimmune" disease in which the body's immune system, which is normally protective, becomes activated in a way that injures normal tissue. For example, the normal immune system forms antibodies, which identify and act against 'foreign' invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. In lupus, antibodies develop and attack the body's normal tissues and organs. The disease is characterized by periods of activity, known as 'flares' and periods of feeling well, known as 'remission' or inactivity.

Lupus tends to affect women more often than men. Nine of 10 patients with lupus are women. Women of African American, Hispanic and Asian descent are more likely to develop lupus than Caucasian women.

The cause(s) of lupus is unknown. Experts believe that lupus may be attributed to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, but sometimes it can be triggered by the use of certain medications. When it is medication-related, discontinuation of the offending drug resolves the symptoms. Lupus may only affect the skin, in which there is no internal organ involvement. Examples of this include discoid lupus (DLE) and subcutaneous cutaneous lupus erythematosus (SCLE). Complications of lupus include kidney disease, nervous system involvement (seizures, memory loss, headaches) and heart disease (heart attacks, strokes).