Research has shown that there are a specific group of genes that are common in patients with lupus. In men, it may take a larger number of these genes to develop lupus than are required for women to develop the disease. There is no specific gene that alone causes a person to develop lupus. However, genetics do play a part in a person developing lupus.
In identical twins, only one may have lupus while the other twin never develops it. If these twins with identical genes do not both develop lupus, then it is obvious that something beside genes is also involved in the development of lupus. There are other environmental factors, or “triggers” that are also required.
Some environmental factors that may trigger lupus in people with genes that make them susceptible to lupus include:
- ultraviolet light
- extreme stress
- certain prescription drugs
- certain hormones
If family members have lupus, or another autoimmune disease, this tends to increase the likelihood that other members of their family will develop lupus or another autoimmune illness. Lupus is not specifically inherited, but the tendency to have autoimmune disease is.
My maternal grandmother had rheumatoid arthritis (RA), took steroids and quinine all her life for it, and lost her sight late in life. From the time of my early childhood, doctors tested me over and over for rheumatoid arthritis because of my grandmother’s RA, but never found a reason for my joint stiffness, pain and inflammation until they determined that I had lupus.
While I may not have directly inherited lupus from my grandmother, I did inherit the genetic susceptibility to autoimmune disease that predisposed me to developing lupus.