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What Is Lupus?

Lupus is 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.

Types of Lupus

Discoid (cutaneous) lupus pertains to the skin. It is indentified by a rash that may appear on the face, neck, and scalp. Discoid lupus can be diagnosed by examining a biopsy of the rash, which will show abnormalities that are not found in skin without the rash. Discoid lupus does not generally involve the internal organs of the body. Approximately 10 percent of patients with Discoid lupus can evolve into the systemic form of the disease.

Systemic lupus, also referred to as SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus) is the form of the disease that most people are referring to as "lupus." It is usually more severe than discoid lupus, and can affect internal organs such as the kidneys, lungs, heart, brain, or other organs and tissues in the body. For some people, only the skin and joints are involved. Systemic lupus may have periods in which few or no symptoms are evident, in which case this is often referred to as "remission". Other times the disease can becomes more active, and is referred to as a "flare".

Drug-induced lupus is caused by certain prescribed medications, and the symptoms are similar to those of systemic lupus. The most common drugs connected to drug-induced lupus are some that are used in the treatment of hypertension and irregular heart rhythms. The symptoms usually fade when the medications are discontinued.

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