Causes of Lupus


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Cause details for Lupus: Lupus is a complex disease whose cause is unknown. It is likely that there is no single cause but rather a combination of genetic, environmental, and possibly hormonal factors that work together to cause the disease. The exact cause may differ from one person to another. 1

Research suggests that genetics plays an important role; however, no specific "lupus gene" has been identified. Instead, it appears that several genes may increase a person's susceptibility to the disease.

The fact that lupus can run in families indicates that its development has a genetic basis. In addition, studies of identical twins have shown that lupus is much more likely to affect both members of a pair of identical twins, who share the exact same set of genes, than two nonidentical twins or other siblings. However, scientists think that genes alone cannot account for who gets lupus. Other factors must also play a role. Some of the factors that scientists are studying include sunlight, stress, certain drugs, and infectious agents such as viruses. Even though a virus might trigger the disease in susceptible individuals, a person cannot "catch" lupus from someone else.

In lupus, the body's immune system does not work as it should. A healthy immune system produces substances called antibodies 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 ("auto" means self), contribute to the inflammation of various parts of the body, causing damage and altering the function of target organs and tissues. In addition, some autoantibodies join with substances from the body’s own cells or tissues to form molecules called immune complexes. A buildup of these immune complexes in the body also contributes to inflammation and tissue injury in people with lupus. Researchers do not yet understand all of the factors that cause inflammation and tissue damage in lupus, and this is an active area of research. 1

Although the cause of lupus is unknown, it is likely a combination of genetic, environmental, and possibly hormonal factors. The exact cause may differ from one person to another. Research suggests that genetics plays an important role; and it appears that several genes may be responsible for increasing a person's susceptibility to the disease. Most cases of SLE occur sporadically, indicating that both genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of the disease. Some of the factors that scientists are studying include sunlight, stress, certain drugs, and infectious agents such as viruses. Even though a virus might trigger the disease in susceptible individuals, a person cannot "catch" lupus from someone else. 2

Lupus as a complication: Other conditions that might have Lupus as a complication might be potential underlying causes of Lupus. The list of conditions listing Lupus as a complication in our database includes:

Causes of Lupus: medical news summaries: The following medical news items are relevant to causes of Lupus:

Related information for causes of Lupus: Further relevant information on causes of Lupus may be found in the risk factors for Lupus and underlying causes of Lupus.

Footnotes:
1. excerpt from Handout on Health Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: NIAMS
2. excerpt from Lupus Fact Sheet: NWHIC

Last revision: June 2, 2003

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