Women and Lupus
Lupus is linked to oestrogen, which is why more women than men suffer from it.
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes lupus but they think genetics, hormones, and your environment may be involved.
Your body’s immune system protects you from bacteria, viruses, and other foreign invaders that can make you sick. But if you have lupus, your immune system also mistakenly attacks and damages your body’s own tissues, too. Diseases that do this are called autoimmune diseases.
Doctors think the hormone oestrogen might play a part in lupus because 9 out of 10 people who have it are female and when progesterone levels are high, the immune system is less likely to flare.
When progesterone levels are low, the immune system will flare a lot. It is commonly known that when women with autoimmune diseases get pregnant, they often have a significant reduction in their autoimmune symptoms.
Research shows that oestrogen helps make women’s immune systems stronger than men’s, so the hormone could also trigger lupus or make it worse. Some women with lupus also get symptom flare-ups around their period or during pregnancy when oestrogen levels are higher
There are number of things connected to lupus risk or development:
Most researchers believe that just having genes that make you more likely to get lupus isn’t enough. You also have to come in contact with something in the environment, such as a virus, to get the disease.
These triggers may include:
- Sunlight. Ultraviolet, or UV, light from the sun damages your cells. That’s why you get sunburn. But in some people, the immune system attacks the sunburned, or damaged, cells. And UV light not only seems to trigger lupus, it also appears to make symptoms worse. When people with lupus are exposed to UV rays, they tend to get joint pain and feel fatigued.
- Infections. Usually when you get sick, your immune system fights off the virus and then stops. But in people with lupus, the immune system keeps attacking. Doctors don’t know why.
Viruses that have been linked to lupus include:
- Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis
- Herpes zoster virus, which causes shingles
Medications and other related risk factors.
Certain drugs can make your immune system overreact and cause what’s called drug-induced lupus. It usually doesn’t last long. Nearly 50 different drugs have been linked to lupus, including medicines to treat heart disease, thyroid disease, infections, and high blood pressure so check with your pharmacist if you are concerned.
Toxins are also implicated as research shows that being around certain chemicals — including cigarette smoke, mercury, and silica — could be linked to lupus. But nobody has been able to prove a direct connection.
If you work in an industry where you’re exposed to mercury and silica, talk to your doctor and it’s always a good idea to quit smoking.
Stress is implicated in so many conditions and some people say that a stressful event happened right before their first lupus flare. It is not proved that stress is a direct cause of lupus, but it’s known to trigger flare-ups in people who already have the disease.
Stressful events can make symptoms worse but everyday stresses — things like traffic or conflicts at work or in a relationship — are less dramatic. But over time, if they build up, they can take a toll, too.
The symptoms of lupus in women may develop suddenly or may build up over a period of time. In some cases, they are mild, but in others they may be severe. They can include:
- Swelling and aching joints accompanied by muscle pain. Joint stiffness is also observed in some people.
- Most patients complain of extreme fatigue.
- A lot of people with lupus suffer either from unexplained weight loss or weight gain.
One of the most commonly observed symptoms is a rash is seen on the face and often covers the cheeks and bridge of the nose.
- Skin lesions, which appear or worsen when the skin is exposed to the sun and skin may become very delicate, and prone to easy bruising.
- During cold temperatures or stressful periods, the fingers and toes either turn white or blue. This is also known as Raynaud’s syndrome.
- People suffering from lupus disease may also suffer from mouth sores.
- Alopecia or hair loss is also an indicator of lupus.
- Affected people may also often be short of breath. It can also be accompanied by chest pain.
- Dry eyes are also a key indicator.
- Anxiety and depression are also signs of lupus. The person may not necessarily suffer from both.
- Memory loss is another important symptom.
If you have any symptoms that concern you please do check with your doctor.
Although we know the things that are linked to lupus, it’s important to remember that researchers have not been able to prove that they directly cause the disease. Just because someone in your family has lupus, or you’ve had herpes zoster virus, that doesn’t mean you’ll get lupus, too.
If you’re concerned about your risk, or have already noticed symptoms, talk to your doctor and remember that if stress is a factor you need to find ways to handle day-to-day challenges such as exercise, spending time with friends, doing something you enjoy, and meditating or relaxing to music. If you need more help consider talking with a counsellor as even a few sessions can make a difference.
Don’t forget that if you are going through a stressful time then your hormone balance is always made worse by stress, so look for help there too.
If oestrogen dominance is a factor for you then for the last several decades, more research has suggested that oestrogen, in particular, is believed to play a role in not only being a possible lupus trigger, but also with increasing lupus symptoms.