by Ty McDuffey

Happy beautiful Afro woman looking at camera and smiling lively against purple background

In short, Lupus is not contagious. You can’t catch it from another person, even through close contact or sex. Doctors believe lupus starts due to a combination of genes and environmental factors.

Lupus affects around 1.5 million Americans. Lupus develops when your immune system misfires and attacks your joints, skin, kidneys, lungs, and heart. Lupus causes inflammation and damage to organs.

Read on to learn more about the causes, risk factors, and ways you can keep yourself safe. 

What Causes Lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease is one in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your own tissues. 

Normally, your immune system protects your body against bacteria and viruses. When your immune system detects these germs, it attacks by sending immune cells and antibodies. Autoimmune diseases cause the immune system to mistake your own tissues, such as your skin, joints, or heart, and attacks them. 

Doctors think several factors trigger this immune system mistake, including:

  • Your genes: Lupus sometimes runs in families. Researchers have found over 50 genes they believe are linked to the condition. Although most of the genes are unlikely to cause lupus by themselves, they make you more vulnerable to developing lupus. 
  • Your environment: If you have lupus, certain factors can worsen your symptoms. Ultraviolet light from the sun, infections and viruses, and exposure to certain chemicals and medications may set off lupus symptoms.

Who is at Risk of Developing Lupus?

You are more likely to develop lupus if:

  • You’re a female: Nine times more women than men have lupus.
  • You’re between the ages 15-44: Lupus most often begins at this age range.
  • One of your close relatives has lupus or another autoimmune disease: Conditions like lupus tend to run in families. People whose close relatives have lupus, like a parent or sibling, have a 5-13 percent risk of developing the disease. 
  • Your family is of African American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, or Pacific Island descent: Lupus is more common in these groups.

What Are the Symptoms to Watch For?

Everyone experiences lupus differently, but lupus symptoms are consistent. 

People with lupus typically have periods where symptoms worsen or flare-up, followed by relatively symptom free periods or remissions. 

Common symptoms of lupus include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain, stiffness, or swelling
  • A butterfly-shaped rash across your cheeks and nose
  • Increased sensitivity to sunlight
  • Hair loss
  • Toes that turn white or blue when exposed to cold
  • Sores in your mouth or nose

It’s important to note that many of these symptoms appear along with other diseases, including Lyme disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia. 

When Should You See a Doctor?

If you’re experiencing symptoms like extreme fatigue, joint pain, rash, or fever, see your doctor as soon as possible. 

No one can tell for sure whether you have lupus. There is a test that can identify autoimmune diseases in general, however. The test is called an antinuclear antibody (ANA) test. An ANA looks for antibodies directed against your body tissues that are produced in certain autoimmune diseases. Detection of other antibodies may suggest a diagnosis of lupus. 

Once your doctor knows you have an autoimmune disease, blood and urine tests can help narrow down which condition you have. These tests look for signs of lupus, like kidney or liver damage. Your doctor may recommend a biopsy or tissue sample before diagnosing lupus. 

Can You Prevent Lupus?

You may not be able to prevent lupus, but you can avoid the factors that trigger your symptoms. For example: 

  • Limit your time in direct sunlight. If sun exposure causes a rash, you should wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 70 or higher that blocks UVA and UVB rays.
  • Avoid medications, if possible, that make you feel more sensitive to the sun. This may include antibiotics and diuretics.
  • Develop stress management techniques. Meditate, practice yoga, or get massages – whatever helps ease your mind. 
  • Stay away from others who are sick with colds or other infections.
  • Get enough rest. Go to bed early enough each night to guarantee yourself 7-9 hours of sleep.