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What Causes Lupus?

Story at-a-glance

  • Most researchers agree that lupus can be triggered by a combination of genetics and lifestyle choices
  • Due to the fact that most lupus patients are women, researchers are studying the connection between hormone production and lupus

Most researchers agree that lupus  can be triggered by a combination of genetics and lifestyle choices. The possibilities can vary  due to lupus being random, but there are notable findings that you should be aware of.

Lupus on a Genetics Perspective

Prior evidence shows that certain ethnic groups, including Africans, Asians, Hispanics/Latinos, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, or Pacific Islanders are more susceptible to lupus than other groups. The reason for this is unknown, but it is theorized that these particular groups have similar genes that can trigger lupus. If you happen to belong to any of these ethnic groups,  consider the possibility that you may get lupus in the future.1

You also have a chance of getting lupus if you have a relative that has had lupus  or a different autoimmune disease before. Twins also have a greater risk of developing lupus, with a 25 percent chance for identical twins, and a 2 to 3 percent chance for fraternal twins.2 Certain genes have also been identified as a trigger for lupus, but their presence guarantees that you will get the disease. External factors still come into play for lupus to appear.3

One group of genes associated with lupus is the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) Genes. MHC genes are responsible for shaping your immune response by creating proteins that fight previous antigens. Under MHC genes are two classes: class II and class III. Ethnicity in MHC II genes and defects in proteins C4 and C2 in MHC III genes increase your chances in triggering lupus.4

Lupus From an Environmental Perspective

Environmental factors, such as a virus or exposure to a chemical, can also trigger lupus. These include:

Ultraviolet rays from the sun or from fluorescent bulbs

Exhaustion

Injury

Sulfa drugs, making a person more sensitive to the sun (antibiotics derived from sulfanilamide)

Infection

Cigarette smoke

Exposure to silica dust in a work environment


However, in order for external factors to trigger lupus, a person's genes must be susceptible to the disease first; just because you experience any of these factors doesn't mean you'll automatically get lupus.5,6 As mentioned previously, certain drugs used to treat illnesses such as hydralazine, procainamide, isoniazid, D-penicillamine, minocycline and anti-TNF can trigger lupus as well.

Lupus Due to Hormones

Due to the fact that most lupus patients are women, researchers are studying the connection between hormone production and lupus. One angle being studied is the connection between estrogen and lupus.

Estrogen is found to be an "immunoenhancing" hormone, making women's immune systems stronger than men. Since women produce more estrogen than men (therefore a higher quantity of immune system cells), they have a higher chance of developing autoimmune diseases. The Lupus Foundation of America also notes women show more lupus symptoms before menstruation and during pregnancy, when estrogen production is high.7

The research in this field hasn’t been fully investigated, but if the current findings are taken into account, then it's clear that estrogen production can be a possible trigger for lupus. It’s advisable for women to be more alert during your menstrual periods and during pregnancy for any lupus symptoms . Should any signs or symptoms appear, contact your doctor right away for proper treatment.

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Sources and References

  • 1, 2, 5 Lupus Foundation of America, "What causes lupus?"
  • 3, 4, 6, 7 The Johns Hopkins Lupus Center, "Causes of Lupus"
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