One of the United States' leading lupus researchers, Dr. Betty Diamond is the head of the Feinstein Institute's Center for Autoimmune and Musculoskeletal Diseases at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Manhasset, NY. She is also a scientific advisor to the Lupus Research Institute and author of dozens of studies probing how antibodies and hormones wage war on people with lupus.

Q: What causes lupus?

The cause of lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own organs and tissues, isn't fully understood. A combination of genes and environmental factors are involved. If one identical twin has lupus, there's a 30 to 50 percent chance that the other twin will develop it too. People with a family history of the disease are also at higher risk. While genetics load the gun, environment pulls the trigger.  We don't know yet which environmental factors are the culprits, except that sun exposure plays a role. 

Q: Why is lupus more common in women?

The disease strikes women at far higher rates, and we're not quite sure why. There's some evidence that hormones, such as estrogen, may be behind the gender gap.

Q: What kind of complications can lupus cause?

Lupus can attack many areas of the body. The most common complication is kidney damage. Without regular blood and urine tests to monitor kidney function and catch problems early—when they can be managed with medication—patients can end up needing dialysis for kidney failure. Having lupus also significantly raises your risk for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), heart attacks, and blood clotting disorders.  The disease also makes you more susceptible to infections, such as urinary tract infections, yeast infections, and diseases like pneumonia.

Q: What can lupus patients do to protect against UV light?

Not all lupus patients have photosensitivity, but it's smart to be careful because UV exposure can trigger flares in many people with the disease. There's special clothing that offers extra UV protection, or you can cover up with a hat, long sleeves, and pants. Also apply sunscreen before going outside. Tinted cosmetics with sunscreen are another way to protect your skin and also help cover up lupus-related rashes.

Learn more about lupus and sun exposure and how to protect yourself.

Q: How effective are current lupus treatments?

Thanks to improved treatments, the outlook is now much better than it was in the past. Not only are current medications safer and more effective than ever before, but there are more options. If one medication isn't working, there is a variety of others to be considered. Advances in treatment give patients every reason to be hopeful. People with lupus can have children, hold jobs, and lead a full and lovely life.

Q: What kind of doctor should manage the care of lupus patients?

A rheumatologist is best qualified to take care of the diverse problems and symptoms associated with lupus. Rheumatologists specialize in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal problems and autoimmune diseases.

Q: What can lupus patients do on their own to cope with symptoms?

Take good care of yourself: Eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, avoid smoking, and keep fit with regular exercise. Look for ways to unwind and shed stress, such as massage, relaxation exercises, or listening to soothing music. Educate family and friends about your disease so they understand what you're dealing with and can help you cope. You may also want to join a support or advocacy group for people with lupus. It helps to connect with other patients and share experiences and solutions.

Learn more ways to manage lupus with healthy lifestyle choices.

Get tips on reducing stress related to lupus.