Lupus is an autoimmune disease that commonly affects women in their 20s and 30s. The disease causes the body to produce an excess of antibodies that attack normal, healthy tissue, resulting in cellular injury, inflammation and pain. Lupus can be mysterious, as the autoimmune disorder can attack a range of body parts, ranging from joints and skin to the brain, blood vessels, kidneys and other vital organs.
"Your body literally is attacking itself," ER physician Dr. Travis Stork says. "Lupus can be very serious."
While a genetic predisposition for lupus and environmental factors may play a role in the development of the disease, in most cases, the cause of the condition is unknown. Certain triggers, such as sunlight and some forms of anti-seizure, antibiotic, or blood pressure medications, can cause symptoms of lupus to present.
"Especially since this problem happens in young women, a lot of times, as gynecologists, we pick it up because it can cause miscarriage," OB-GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson adds. "Also, there are certain ways you have to treat women who have lupus. There are certain forms of contraception that they can't take. There are a lot of complications that can arise in pregnancy with lupus, so sometimes the contraception is extremely important, if they are on steroids or things like that."
A blood test can confirm the diagnosis of lupus. There is no known cure for the disease, though symptoms can be managed with prescription medications, such as corticosteroid creams, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory and anti-malarial drugs.
"The way you treat lupus is you try to shut your immune system down," Dr. Travis says. "Your immune system is attacking your own healthy tissue."