My name is Dr. Bob Lahita and I am the chairman of medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, which is part of Barnabas Health. And I am a professor of medicine at UMDNJ. I am here for About.com to give you an overview of the disease Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.This is an autoimmune disease, meaning it is a disease of the immune system where the immune system cannot distinguish between what is foreign and what is self. So there are proteins made by cells in the body and these are called antibodies and there are cells in the body that can be toxic to certain tissues. Normally, these antibodies and cells react against viral infections and bacterial infections, and they are really there to protect and to serve, much as the police department is. So, some of those antibodies become like renegades and actually attack and destroy, in some instances, organs and tissues of the body. Now that can vary from a skin rash to kidney failure, heart disease and lung disease to encephalitis or rejection of parts of the brain.The way we treat lupus is to turn the immune system down, to immunosuppress; that's actually the name of the drugs - immunosuppressants are the drugs that we use to treat the disease. And that can be from cortisone or prednisone to chemo-therapeutic agents, things that are generally used for diseases like cancer, although lupus is not a cancer. It is an autoimmune disease for which no cure is known and no cause is known. The interesting thing about lupus is that it prefers to affect women of the child-bearing years. Men are affected – women are preferred and it's about 10 women for every man.A question that is always asked: "Is lupus hereditary?", and the answer is "No, not in the classical sense." With lupus, there is no known gene that causes the disease. There are genes on the immune response chromosome – 6 in the human – that are associated with the disease, but they are not associated with the cause. So if someone comes and asks me, a mother usually, and says "Can my children get lupus if I have lupus?", the answer is "Not necessarily." One of your children may, it may skip 3 or 4 generations. What we do find is that in families, certain members of the family can have, not lupus, but multiple sclerosis, or rheumatoid arthritis or Sjögren's syndrome or polymyositis and there are a whole host of other autoimmune diseases besides lupus which are related to lupus. I've just given you an overview of systemic lupus erythematosus.For more information, please log on to About.com on the web.
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