Lupus is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease where the body attacks its own cells and organs, and its cause is still unknown. However general scientific consensus is that there there is a complex interplay of internal and external causative factors that influence the development of lupus. These include hormones, genetics, and environmental stressors.
Scientists have considered a potential hormonal link to lupus, since 9 out of 10 people who are diagnosed with the condition are females, mostly of childbearing age, between 15 and 45 years.
Estrogen is produced at far higher levels in women than in men. Furthermore, it has been observed that when estrogen levels are high, lupus symptoms are aggravated, such as prior to menstrual periods or during pregnancy.
Women appear to be more susceptible to lupus and other autoimmune diseases, however research into this hormonal link is still ongoing in the scientific community.
Genetic factors have also been shown to be contributory factors in the development of lupus. More than 50 genes have been identified as commonly associated with lupus, and lupus sufferers are more likely to have these genes, than those who do not.
However, genetic susceptibility alone does not directly cause lupus. While lupus can develop in individuals with no family history of it, research has shown that in such cases, other autoimmune diseases in family members are more likely.
In terms of ethnicity, research has also indicated a greater vulnerability to lupus in people of African, Hispanic, Native American, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Island descent.
Many researchers have concluded that environmental stressors play a significant causative role in the development of lupus. It has been suggested that the disease may be triggered in a genetically susceptible individual by an airborne virus, a chemical, or toxins like cigarette smoke, silica, and mercury.
Other environmental triggers for lupus, (which sufferers have also reported may cause flare ups), include: ultraviolet rays from the sun and / or fluorescent light bulbs; pharmaceutical drugs that increase sun sensitivity, such as sulfa drugs, diuretics, tetracycline drugs, and penicillin or other antibiotics. In addition, certain types of blood pressure medication and seizure medication have also been known to trigger lupus. When lupus is triggered or exacerbated by use of these drugs, symptoms often improve when they are discontinued.
Severe emotional stress and physical trauma, as well as exhaustion, infections, colds, or viral illnesses, are also considered factors that can contribute to the development of lupus. Research efforts continue to identify the multifactorial causes of lupus.