Reviewed by JoAnn Zell, MD

What Causes Lupus?

It is difficult to know exactly what causes lupus. Lupus is a complex disease, and experts don’t fully understand its cause. There are probably many factors which would predispose someone to develop lupus. Scientists believe those factors include genetics or environmental triggers.

If you have a family member with an autoimmune disease, you may have a higher risk of lupus, which may signify a genetic link. Scientists believe there is no single gene that makes people more likely to develop lupus. Rather, studies suggest that many different genes may be involved in determining a person’s likelihood of developing the disease, as well as which tissues and organs are affected and the severity of lupus disease. However, other people who have similar genetic backgrounds may not get signs or symptoms of the disease. Researchers are trying to find out why.

Research also shows that genes alone don’t determine who gets lupus; other factors play a role. Environmental triggers of lupus are thought to include viral infections, exposure to silica dust, sun exposure, exposure to cigarette smoke, stress, various medications and hormones. Studies have confirmed that one virus, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which causes mononucleosis, is a cause of lupus in genetically susceptible people.

Estrogen is also thought to be a trigger for the development of lupus. This may be why women develop this condition much more often than men (9 out of 10 adults with lupus are women) and why they develop it during their reproductive years.

Researchers are working to determine more precisely the cause or causes of lupus.

 

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