All About Lupus: Understanding the Basics

Learn about the different types of lupus, what causes it, and how it is managed. Discover why early diagnosis and treatment is important for living a full life with lupus.

systemic lupus erythematosus

According to the Lupus Foundation of America at least 1.5 million Americans have
some form of lupus. There are several different types of lupus including systemic lupus
erythematosus (SLE), cutaneous lupus erythematosus, drug-induced lupus, and
neonatal lupus.2 This article will focus on SLE which is the most common form of lupus
and makes up about 70% of lupus cases.

Lupus is a serious and complex autoimmune condition that can be damaging to different
parts of the body.1 If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with lupus, understanding
the basic details of the condition can be empowering and help you receive and provide
necessary support.

What is Lupus?

Lupus occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your body’s immune system attacks you and cell damage.1,2 It is more common in women of childbearing age.1,2
Severity of the disease can be mild with little to no symptoms or severe with chronic
symptoms. Without the protection of your immune system, you are at higher risk of
potentially experiencing organ damage which can be life threatening.1

If you have lupus you will likely experience episodes where your symptoms get worse
known as flares as well as periods of symptom improvement usually referred to as remission.3 Early detection and diagnosis are vital to living a full life and minimizing

What Causes Lupus?

The exact cause of lupus is unknown. One theory is that there is a genetic link and
specific triggers such as infection, exposure to sunlight, smoking, certain medications or
stress may result in disease expression.2,3 There may also be hormonal or
environmental factors.1-3 Additional research is needed to better understand the disease
and how it impacts those affected.

What Are the Risks?

The risk factors for developing lupus include:4

Are There Any Complications?

Lupus can raise your risk of developing other health problems and there is an additional
risk of developing these conditions earlier in life.2 There are specific health conditions
you should be aware of and take proactive steps to protect yourself.

  • Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease and
    you are at an increased risk if you have lupus.2 If you have lupus you are more
    likely to experience inflammation and have metabolic syndrome which includes
    elevated blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. The presence of these
    symptoms are all risk factors for CAD.
  • Kidney disease is one of the more serious complications of lupus.2 It is also one
    of the most common complications as more than 50% of people with lupus
    experience kidney issues known as lupus nephritis. There are usually no early
    symptoms of kidney disease, but there are routine lab tests that can monitor your
    kidney function over time.

Lupus in Black Women

African American women are at least three times more likely to be diagnosed with
lupus, to be diagnosed at a younger age, and experience worse symptoms including
seizures and strokes.2 Black patients are also underrepresented in lupus clinical trials.
You can make a difference by participating in lupus research.

The TOPAZ studies are evaluating an investigational lupus drug. If you or someone you
know has been living with lupus for at least 6 months and are currently taking lupus
medication, click here to learn more about eligibility. If you are eligible and participate in
the study, you will be regularly monitored and receive the investigational drug at no

1. CDC. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
2. CDC. Lupus in Women
3. Lupus Foundation of America. Quick Guide: African Americans and Lupus
4. Lupus Foundation of America. Risk factors for developing lupus
5. Lupus Foundation of America. Quick Guide: African Americans and Lupus
6. Sheikh SZ, Wanty NI, Stephens J, Holtz KD, McCalla S. The State of Lupus
Clinical Trials: Minority Participation Needed. J Clin Med. 2019;8(8):1245.
Published 2019 Aug 17. doi:10.3390/jcm8081245


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