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Does someone you know have lupus? What exactly is this disease? Systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE, is the most common and serious form of lupus.

Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) and subacute cutaneous lupus (SCLE) are different types of lupus. Skin rashes and sun sensitivity are the main problems with these variations. The internal parts of the body are not affected, and life is not threatened. However, both DLE and SCLE may occur simultaneously with SLE. Proper diagnosis is the only way to be sure which type of lupus you have.

Neonatal lupus is a rare form of lupus that affects newborn children. This most often occurs in the children of women with lupus who also have a particular antibody in their bloodstream. Skin rashes come and go, and there is a temporarily low cell count for some blood cells. These problems go away within six months. In few cases, the normal heartbeat may be affected. However, this serious problem can usually be corrected with a pacemaker. Some drugs can trigger drug-induced lupus. Drug-induced lupus goes away when the drug is identified, as the cause is stopped.

SLE is a chronic, treatable, autoimmune disease that can affect any organ in the body. The symptoms vary greatly from person to person. Lupus is characterized by autoantibodies. SLE is a chronic illness but will not necessarily make you continuously sick for the rest of your life. Autoimmune means that there is a problem with the immune system in that the system cannot tell the difference between the person's own body tissues and viruses or infections. This confusion leads to inflammation in some organs, and the symptoms of lupus appear. If severe or left untreated, this inflammation may cause organ damage and even cause the organ to stop working. Autoantibodies, meaning antibodies directed against one's self, are the main culprit in SLE.

Women of childbearing age are most likely to get lupus. It is 8 to 13 times more common in these women than in men. The disease occurs in men, in children, and in the elderly. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, 500,000 Americans are estimated to have SLE. The disease occurs in 1 of every 600 white women of childbearing age and in 1 of every 200 black women. Lupus is not as well known as multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, or leukemia, but is more common.

Lupus is not an infection. It is not contagious. It cannot be passed from person to person like a cold, the measles, or the flu. It is not a form of cancer. There is no relationship between lupus and AIDS.

Heredity may be a factor in whether or not a person develops lupus. It is not unusual for a lupus patient to have a relative with an autoimmune disease. However, the odds are still 95% against having lupus when someone else in the family has it.

So far, there is no cure for lupus. Researchers studying this disease have made tremendous advances in their knowledge of SLE. Patients should continue to live in hope that a cure will be found.

There is a tremendous improvement in life expectancy for people with lupus. Thirty-five years ago only half of all lupus patients were still alive four years after initial diagnosis. By the late 1970s, 80-90% of all lupus patients were still alive after 10 years. There has been a dramatic improvement in the survival rate for patients diagnosed in the sixties and seventies. At the start of this century, the survival rate of lupus patients has improved measurably. Earlier diagnosis and better use of tests has helped. The most important advancement has been the discovery and use of prednisone in the treatment of SLE.