by Cyndi Trang
April 2011

Lupus is an incurable disease affecting over one million Americans and is more prevalent than muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, and leukemia combined (Wallace, 2000, p. 3). Lupus is a non-contagious autoimmune disease affecting both sexes and all ages. The three types of lupus are discoid lupus erythematosus, drug-induced lupus erythematosus, and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Over 70% of lupus patients have systemic lupus erythematosus. Two subtypes of SLE are non-organ threatening disease and organ threatening disease (Wallace, 2000, p. 7). In particular, scientists and researchers focus on lupus symptoms, causes, and treatments.

Lupus symptoms cover an extensive spectrum. Lupus’ external symptoms include change in skin pigments, sudden fevers, swollen joints, sun sensitivity, hair loss, and mouth sores. The most distinctive external feature is a butterfly rash across the nose and cheekbones (Lockshin, 1994, p. 530). Internal symptoms include malaise, fatigue, joint pains, arthritis, kidney disorders, and blood abnormalities. The most perilous internal symptom is an overactive, undiscriminating immune system (Campbell & Reece, 2007, p. 949). In other words, a lupus patient’s antibodies attack both foreign and host cells, which make patients susceptible to common colds and other diseases.

Currently, the cause of lupus is unknown, but several theories exist to explain its origin. Some researchers believe lupus is a genetic disease. A UCLA study suggests a set of genes on chromosome 1 determines a 20% risk of lupus (Wallace, 2000, p. 39). However, less than a quarter of lupus patients’ families are positive for lupus, which means other factors must exist. Some researchers believe lupus is an x-linked dominant inheritance because over 90% of lupus patients are females. Other researchers speculate the possibility of “forbidden clones” which is gender unbiased (Blau & Schultz, 1977, p. 89). Forbidden clones form when uncensored malfunctioning lymphocytes replicate and attack host cells. Fortunately, lupus treatments exist.

Lupus treatments include physical and oral measures. Doctors usually advise patients to wear sunscreen at all times and avoid prolong exposure to sunlight because ultraviolet radiation can incite rashes. L-canavanine, an amino acid in alfalfa sprouts, can increase inflammation; as a result, patients should not eat alfalfa sprouts (Wallace, 2000, p. 179). Many medications can treat lupus but have side effects and are not fool proof. Lupus patients usually take ibuprofen, a NSAID, to relieve pain. Unfortunately, 0.1%-10% of NSAIDs causes kidney or liver failure (Wallace, 2000, p. 204). Lupus patients typically take cortisone at short interval in low quantities at various stages of illness to suppress symptoms. Unfortunately, side effects include difficulty sleeping, hair loss, irritable moods, and obesity. Another popular treatment is antimalarials like hydroxylchloroquine and chloroquine. Antimalarials inhibit blood clotting, protect the skin from ultraviolet radiation, and alter the body’s acid-base balance. One major adverse effect is eye damage, but under careful administration, the damage should be minimal (Blau & Shultz, 1997, p. 37). Although the treatments have side effects, it is better to seek treatment than not.

Overall, diagnosing lupus is a difficult task because lupus symptoms are very diverse and not everyone exhibits the same symptoms. To prevent lupus from intensifying, patients take drug and safety measures, but harmful side effects still occur. Moreover, lupus’ origin remains a mystery. Scientists can only speculate and continue research. Someday the disease affecting millions may affect none.


Blau, S. P., & Shultz, D. (1977). Lupus, the Body against Itself. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday and Company.

Campbell, N. A. & Reece, J. B. (2007). Biology. (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Benjamin Cummings.

Lockshin, M. D. (1994). Lupus. In The World Book Encyclopedia. (Vol. 12, pp. 530). Chicago, IL: World Book.

Wallace, D. J. (2000). The Lupus Book. New York, NY: Oxford University.

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