Lupus occurs when your body immune system attacks healthy tissue and cells from the body. Although there isn’t a clear cause of lupus many researchers believe that it is caused by a complex interplay of genes, hormones, and environmental factors.
When patients first present signs of lupus, they are often asked whether they have a family member with lupus or another autoimmune condition. This information is very useful because apparently there is a link between genes and lupus because of the clustering of lupus in families and the increased prevalence of the disease among certain ethnic groups.
The genetic background is useful in order to establish lupus disease but it appears that people with an inherited predisposition for lupus may develop the disease when they come into contact with something in the environment that can trigger lupus. Basically, you can be born with a specific gene that can cause lupus but that does not necessarily mean that you will face lupus or that your symptoms will be severe.
Hormones are also known as our body messengers because they are responsible for the adjustment of many of the body’s functions. Because lupus affects especially women and the production of estrogen is bigger in a female body this may indicate the fact that estrogen regulates the severity of lupus. Many women have more lupus symptoms before menstrual periods and/or during pregnancy when estrogen production is high.
However, it hasn’t been proved a direct link between estrogen, or any other hormone, and lupus. Also, studies of women taking estrogen in forms of birth control pills or postmenopausal treatment haven’t showed any increase in lupus activity.
In general, lupus appears in certain families where a member has already been diagnosed with this disease. However, there has not been proved the fact that a gene or a group of genes is responsible for lupus disease. Nevertheless, certain genes have been identified as contributing to the development of lupus, but these associations alone are not enough to cause the disease. Lupus can develop in people with no family history of lupus, but there are likely to be other autoimmune diseases in some family members.
Many researchers believe that lupus can be triggered by an environmental agent, such as a virus or possibly a chemical, randomly encountered by a genetically susceptible individual. But this hypothesis remains uncertain because there is no specific environmental agent responsible for lupus. Indeed, there are some elements that can induce lupus and cause flares, Most known environmental elements are ultraviolet light (UVB in particular); infections (including the effects of the Epstein-Barr virus), and exposure to silica dust in agricultural or industrial settings.
Other examples of known environmental triggers include:
- Ultraviolet rays from the sun
- Ultraviolet rays from fluorescent light bulbs
- Sulfa drugs, which make a person more sensitive to the sun
- Sun-sensitizing tetracycline drugs
- Penicillin or other antibiotic drugs
- Cold or a viral illness
- Emotional stress, such as divorce, illness, death in the family, or other life complications
- Anything else that causes stress to the body such as surgery, physical harm, pregnancy, or giving birth
Because lupus is in fact an autoimmune disease it remains one mysterious disease that doctors haven’t quite figured out yet. It won’t be until the science catches up with the disease that we will truly understand what causes this autoimmune disease to occur.