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Lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is an autoimmune disease, which means the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue and organs. This leads to long-term inflammation, swelling, pain and damage that can affect many different body systems, including the heart, lungs, brain, kidneys, joints and skin.
Lupus is tricky to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to those of other diseases, including periods of illness or “flares” and periods of feeling fine or “remission.” It’s not contagious and is not related to cancer.
While the exact cause is not known, it is believed that it results from a mix of genetics and the person’s environment. Experts believe that people with a genetic predisposition to the disease may develop lupus when something in their environment triggers it. Triggers include certain medicines (particularly anti-seizure, blood pressure and antibiotic medications), certain chemicals, tobacco smoke, infections and sun exposure.
There is no known cure but there are treatments that can help manage its symptoms. Approximately 1.5 million Americans have it, and it is more common in women than men, typically striking in the childbearing years (age 15 to 44).