Lupus is a complex disease whose cause is unknown. It is very likely that there is no single cause but rather a combination of genetic, environmental and possibly hormonal factors that occur together to cause the disease. The exact cause may differ from one person to another.
Recent research suggests that genetics plays an important role; however, no specific “lupus gene” has been identified. Also lupus does develop in people with no family history of lupus although it is likely that there are other autoimmune diseases in some family members. It appears that several genes may increase a person’s susceptibility to the disease.
Although lupus can run in families, genetics alone cannot account for who gets lupus. Some elements in the environment are also thought to play a role in the development of the disease. These include ultraviolet light exposure from the sun or florescent lighting, stress, certain drugs and infectious agents such as viruses.
Lupus is often called a “women’s disease” despite the fact that many men are affected. Lupus can occur at any age, in either sex, but it occurs 10-15 times more frequently in women of child-bearing years (15 to 45 years of age). There is disagreement among researchers as to whether estrogen is connected to the risk for lupus.
Race is also considered a risk factor for lupus. African-American, Latino, Asian and Native American women have a greater risk of getting developing lupus than white women, as high as three times more frequently. Although socio-economic factors may play some part, researchers believe that genetics for lupus in these racial groups is a more important factor.
Researchers are continuing to unravel the mysteries of lupus. Today people with lupus can live active and productive lives with the hope that ongoing lupus research will lead to the prevention and cure of lupus in the future. Lupus is one of those mysterious diseases that research has not quite pinned down. It won’t be until science catches up with the disease that we will truly understand what causes this autoimmune disease to occur.