Lupus is an autoimmune disease that develops when your immune system begins to attack your own tissues and organs. The resulting inflammation can cause damage throughout the body, including in the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs. The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that 1.5 million Americans, and at least 5 million people worldwide, have the disease.
Most people with lupus will experience periodic episodes—called “flares”—when symptoms get worse for a while, and then they’ll see improvement or even complete remission for a time. The most distinctive sign of a lupus flare is a facial rash that resembles the wings of a butterfly unfolding across both cheeks.
Common factors that may increase your risk of lupus or a lupus flare include the following…
Lupus is more common in women than in men. In fact, more than 90 percent of people with lupus are women. However, before puberty, boys and girls are equally likely to develop the condition.
Although lupus affects people of all ages, it’s most often diagnosed in individuals between the ages of 15 and 45. Only 15 percent of the people who are diagnosed with lupus later in life will exhibit symptoms before the age of 18.
In the United States, lupus is more common and severe in people of color than in the Caucasian population. Lupus is more common in African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. On top of that, the condition tends to develop at an earlier age in members of these ethnic groups.
Relatives of people with lupus have a five to 13 percent chance of developing lupus. However, only about five percent of children will develop lupus if their mother has the condition.
Exposure to the sun may bring out symptoms of lupus on the skin or trigger a response in people susceptible to the condition.
Catching an infection can trigger lupus or cause a relapse. People who have infections, including cytomegalovirus (CMV), parvovirus, and hepatitis C, are at an increased risk for developing lupus. Children with the Epstein-Barr virus are also at a greater risk for lupus.
Lupus is triggered by certain types of blood pressure medications, anti-seizure medications and antibiotics. People with drug-induced lupus usually get better when they stop taking the medication. Rarely, symptoms may persist after they’ve stopped taking the drug.