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Causes Of Lupus Or Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

Causes Of Lupus (SLE)

Lupus is an autoimmune condition caused by a combination of factors, both genetic and environmental. Your genes, having a twin or sibling with the condition, and even your ethnicity all play a part. Lupus has also been linked to triggers like physical or emotional stress, exhaustion, smoking or sun exposure. You may also develop drug-induced lupus after taking sun-sensitizing tetracycline drugs, sulfa drugs, anti-seizure medications, or alpha inhibitors.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects 5 million people worldwide, many of them in the United States.1 Unfortunately, there are many more who are never diagnosed or who leave it too late, succumbing to organ damage or serious health complications from lupus. Getting diagnosed early on can save not just your organs but also allow you a better quality of life.

So what puts you at risk of developing this condition? Are there factors you could control or avoid? The answer, while not simple, is that a combination of factors, both internal and external, are responsible for lupus. And depending on what has triggered lupus in your case, some of these factors can be controlled.

What Is Lupus?

An autoimmune problem, lupus causes chronic inflammation of multiple organs in the body, including your joints, skin, nervous system and even lungs, kidneys, and brain. Your body’s own immune system begins to attack healthy tissues. White blood cells and antibodies that defend the body against viruses and bacteria are mistakenly released and attack healthy cells, tissue, and organs. The result for someone who has lupus is chronic pain and inflammation. Typical symptoms include skin rashes on the body and face, muscle and joint pain, fatigue, fever, hair loss, visual problems/seizures if the nervous system is affected, chest pain if lungs/heart are inflamed, anemia, and poor kidney function if kidneys are affected.2

What Causes Lupus?

The medical community has not yet managed to accurately pin down a single cause for lupus. However, multiple factors could play a role in your developing the condition.3

Causes Of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

The most common form of lupus is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the causes of which are detailed below.

Genetic Causes

According to the National Resource Center on Lupus, no less than 50 genes have been linked to lupus.4 But while their presence can be contributing factors, they are not on their own enough to actually trigger lupus. Still, risk factors tend to be higher among certain groups.

Having a twin or sibling with lupus: If your identical twin has lupus, your risk of developing the disease is 30 percent. If you are fraternal twins, that risk is between 5 and 10 percent.5 Having a sibling with lupus may also raise your risk.

Your ethnicity: Certain ethnic groups and races are more prone to developing lupus. Based on historical data and current research, if you are of African, Hispanic or Latino, Asian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Island, or Native American descent, you are likely to have more of the genes that predispose you to lupus.6 Of these ethnic groups/races, African-Americans are three to four times more susceptible to getting SLE than Caucasians. They are also more likely to face severe complications once they have the condition.7

Environmental Causes

There are also certain lifestyle-linked causes of lupus. These are often controllable and can help you manage your condition better. Knowing what these are can go a long way in helping improve your condition and managing symptoms. Remember, these factors will usually come into play if you are already predisposed or susceptible to developing lupus as a result of the previously mentioned risk factors.

Emotional stress: Emotions play a role in autoimmune conditions like lupus. If you have experienced a huge emotional upheaval like the death of a loved one, divorce, illness, or other major life complications, it may trigger lupus in those who are susceptible.8

Physical stress: If you have had any major injury or experienced physical harm or trauma in some way, including undergoing a surgery, it puts your body under physical stress and may cause lupus. Even pregnancy and giving birth can bring on lupus in women.9

Illness: If you have had a bad infection or experienced a viral illness or colds, you could be more susceptible if you are already predisposed to developing lupus. A very bad bout of any of these illnesses may also spark off lupus. Some infections that cause no symptoms like the Epstein-Barr virus may also be linked to lupus.10

Exhaustion: If your body is under too much strain and you are pushing yourself too hard, you could end up constantly exhausted. This puts you more at risk for lupus.11

Smoking: The National Health Service in the UK lists smoking as a possible cause of lupus. If you are already at risk or have lupus, quitting smoking may be a good idea.12

Other Factors

While not strictly a cause, these other factors may play a role in determining your risk of developing lupus.

Being female: Women are 10 times more likely to develop lupus than men, going by statistics of those who have the disease.13 An estimated 90 percent of lupus patients are female, usually diagnosed in childbearing years.14

Hormonal changes could be to blame since many women with lupus say their symptoms flare up during pregnancy and/or before their menstrual period. While some researchers are exploring the possibility of estrogen or other hormones regulating how severe your lupus is, no firm link has yet been established.15

Age: While not a cause, lupus tends to first surface more commonly in people aged 15 to 44.16 15 percent of lupus patients say they saw symptoms appear even before they turned 18.17

Causes Of Skin Lupus

Skin or cutaneous lupus is triggered by exposure to sunlight. If you have skin lupus, your skin may develop lesions or rashes wherever the skin has been directly exposed to the light of the sun.18

Causes Of Neonatal Lupus

Neonatal lupus is, as the name suggests, passed to babies from their mother who is already affected by SLE. The baby acquires the mother’s auto-antibodies. Blood, liver, and skin problems linked to neonatal lupus tend to go away by the time a baby is six months old. Unfortunately, if the infant has a congenital heart block, he or she will need a pacemaker to be surgically placed in their body.19

Causes Of Drug-Induced Lupus

Drug-induced lupus is in many ways similar to SLE except for its cause, which is rooted in the body’s overreaction to particular medications. The good news is that symptoms tend to go away after the medication is stopped.20 Specifically, drugs like isoniazid, hydralazine, and procainamide are known offenders.21 Sun-sensitizing tetracycline drugs and sulfa drugs that make you more sensitive to the sun can bring on drug-induced lupus.22 For some people anti-seizure medications, alpha inhibitors, tumor-necrosis factor, or drugs like quinidine, penicillamine, chlorpromazine, sulfasalazine, minocycline, or methyldopa may also trigger lupus.23

References   [ + ]

1. What is Lupus?. The National Resource Center on Lupus.
2. Lupus. Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria, Australia.
3, 16. Systemic lupus erythematosus. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 15, 22. What causes lupus?. The National Resource Center on Lupus.
7, 14, 17. Systemic lupus erythematosus. University of Maryland Medical Center.
10, 12. Lupus Causes. National Health Service.
13. Lupus. American College of Rheumatology.
18, 19, 20. Lupus Detailed Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
21, 23. Drug-induced lupus erythematosus. U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.