Reviewed by JoAnn Zell, MD

Lupus is a chronic disease that can affect almost any organ in the body. There are several kinds of lupus, but one common type of lupus are systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

Anyone can get lupus, but it most often affects women. Lupus is about 10-15 times more common in women as compared with men.  It is also significantly more common in African American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American women than in Caucasian women. Although SLE usually first affects people between the ages of 15 and 45 years, it can occur in childhood or later in life as well. Classically it is known as a disease affecting women of childbearing age.

Systemic lupus erythematosus symptoms are caused by an overly active immune system. Normally the immune system protects us by attacking bacteria, viruses and other cells recognized as foreign and harmful to the body. But with lupus, something goes wrong, and the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissue. Lupus is called an autoimmune disorder because the immune system attacks the “self.” (“Auto” means self.) The reason for these mistakes by the immune system is not completely understood.

People with mild lupus may only have skin rashes and/or joint pain. In people with more severe lupus, important organs like the kidneys, heart, blood vessels, lungs, gastrointestinal tract and brain can be involved.

Any two people with lupus may have different symptoms or manifestations. People with lupus can have active disease or sometimes go into a period of remission or low disease activity. While lupus cannot be cured, your health care provider can help you control symptoms.

Some estimates say that about 1.5 million people in the U.S. have lupus. However, we don’t know for sure, because its symptoms vary widely, and it can go undiagnosed for a long time.

 

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