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How Do You Get Lupus?

Medically Reviewed on 5/21/2020

What is lupus?

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system targets and attacks its own tissues and organs.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system targets and attacks its own tissues and organs. Interestingly, more than 90% of lupus patients are women, and most of them start experiencing symptoms when they are in their childbearing age (15 to 49 years according to WHO).

Note: While the term lupus can refer to a localized skin condition, this article is referring to the systemic autoimmune disease, systemic lupus erythematosus.

What causes lupus?

The specific reason for getting lupus is unknown. Researchers understand, however, lupus involves some interaction among various factors including one’s genes, ethnicity, immune system, hormones, and the environment.

In certain vulnerable people, exposure to UV rays, certain infections, and drugs have been found to play a role in promoting lupus.

Several factors make a person more likely to develop lupus:

  • Female gender
  • Childbearing age
  • Ethnicity
    • African American
    • Asian American
    • Hispanic/Latino
    • Native American
    • Pacific Islander
  • Having a family member with lupus (genetics)

What is the first sign of lupus?

Lupus is a lifelong disease that can directly or indirectly affect any part of your body. The signs and symptoms of lupus depend on whether you develop the disease as a child or an adult. Most lupus patients visit their doctor with rash or joint pain as initial complaints.

Childhood-onset lupus

In children, the following symptoms are common:

  • Malar rash (a butterfly-shaped rash involving the cheeks and the bridge of the nose)
  • Seizures
  • Increased tendency for bleeding
  • Pale or anemic appearance
  • Fever
  • Swelling
  • Joint pain

Adult-onset lupus

In adults, the following symptoms can also be observed:

  • Dry and itchy eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Fingers and joints turning pale or bluish on exposure to stress and cold
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain

Other symptoms include:

  • Rash that worsens on exposure to sun
  • Mental changes
  • Cough
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain abdomen
  • Indigestion
  • Weight loss
  • Nerve pain
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Memory impairment
  • Frequent spontaneous abortions

The classic triad of lupus is the presence of rash, fever and joint pain in a female of childbearing age.


What Is Lupus? Symptoms, Rash, and Treatment
See Slideshow

Is lupus contagious?

No. Lupus does not spread from person to person by touch or any other means. Since it depends on many factors including genes and immunity, you cannot ‘catch’ lupus like flu or other infections.

Medically Reviewed on 5/21/2020


Medscape Medical Reference

Lupus Foundation of America

World Health Organization

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