What is Lupus? Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

Lupus facial rash in a typical wolf-like distr...Image via Wikipedia
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, blood, and kidneys. The body's immune system normally makes proteins called antibodies to protect the body against viruses, bacteria, and other foreign materials. These foreign materials are called antigens. In an autoimmune disorder such as lupus, the immune system loses its ability to tell the difference between foreign substances (antigens) and its own cells and tissues. The immune system then makes antibodies directed against "self." These antibodies, called "auto-antibodies," react with the "self" antigens to form immune complexes. The immune complexes build up in the tissues and can cause inflammation, injury to tissues, and pain. The disease whose severity spans a spectrum, with some lucky patients having milder symptoms without organ involvement (such as malar rash, canker sores, joint pain without swelling) and other patients having severe organ involvement (such as found in the kidneys and brain). Physicians who treat SLE will often describe the disease as mild, moderate or severe, usually on the basis of the severity of the organ involvement and the potential for permanent organ damage. Generally, no two people with systemic lupus will have identical symptoms. Systemic lupus may include periods in which few, if any, symptoms are evident ("remission") and other times when the disease becomes more active ("flare"). Most often when people mention "lupus," they are referring to the systemic form of the disease; however, there are two other types of lupus: discoid and drug-induced. Discoid (cutaneous) lupus is always limited to the skin. It is identified by a rash that may appear on the face, neck, and scalp. Drug-induced lupus occurs after the use of certain prescribed drugs. The symptoms of drug-induced lupus are similar to those of systemic lupus. The drugs most commonly connected with drug-induced lupus are hydralazine (used to treat high blood pressure or hypertension) and procainamide (used to treat irregular heart rhythms). The symptoms usually fade when the medications are discontinued. For most people, lupus is a mild disease but, it may cause serious and even life-threatening problems. More than 16,000 Americans develop lupus each year. It is estimated that 1.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with lupus. Women develop the disease at least ten times more often; although men and even children are affected. Africans Americans have a three-fold higher frequency of lupus than do European Americans, and lupus in African Americans is, on average, more severe. Genes causing lupus in African Americans generally different from those causing lupus in European Americans.
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