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WHAT IS LUPUS?
Lupus is an autoimmune disease. The immune systemís main job is to fight germs, viruses, cancer cells, and other foreign substances in the body... But in autoimmune diseases, the immune system is out of control. It attacks healthy tissues, not germs. The body literally attacks itself.
The immune system of a lupus sufferer sees it's own cells as enemies within the tissues of its own body... and, therefore, attacks its own tissues... in a mistaken effort to protect the body from other foreign substances. Auto immune system confusion over what is foreign to the body and what is supposed to be in the body becomes what is often known as lupus. A healthy immune system produces proteins called antibodies and specific cells called lymphocytes that help fight and destroy viruses, bacteria, and other foreign substances that invade the body. In lupus, the immune system produces antibodies against the body's healthy cells and tissues. These antibodies, called autoantibodies, contribute to the inflammation of various parts of the body and can cause damage to organs and tissues. The most common type of autoantibody that develops in people with lupus is called an antinuclear antibody (ANA) because it reacts with parts of the cell's nucleus (command center). Doctors and scientists do not yet understand all of the factors that cause inflammation and tissue damage in lupus, and researchers are actively exploring them.
Lupus is a disease that can affect many parts of the body. Everyone reacts differently. Lupus has many symptoms, and not everyone with lupus reacts the same way. Lupus can involve the joints, the skin, the kidneys, the lungs, the heart and/or the brain. If you have lupus, it may affect two or three parts of your body. Usually, one person doesnít have all the possible symptoms.
Lupus is a complex disease,
and its cause is unknown. It is likely that a combination of genetic,
environmental, and possibly hormonal factors work together to cause the
disease. Scientists are making progress in understanding lupus, as
described here and in the "Current Research" section of this
booklet. The fact that lupus can run in families indicates that its
development has a genetic basis. Recent research suggests that genetics
plays an important role; however, no specific "lupus gene" has
been identified yet. Studies suggest that several different genes may be
involved in determining a person's likelihood of developing the disease,
which tissues and organs are affected, and the severity of disease.
However, scientists believe that genes alone do not determine who gets
lupus and that other factors also play a role. Some of the factors
scientists are studying include sunlight, stress, certain drugs, and
infectious agents such as viruses.