There’s no single known cause for lupus. Instead, many factors, such as genetics and exposure to certain triggers, may contribute to the development of lupus.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease. The symptoms result from immune system overactivity that causes your immune system to attach healthy cells, tissues, and organs. Inflammation due to this immune response may cause irreversible damage.

Researchers believe lupus may develop as a result of one or more factors, including your genes and some aspects of your environment.

Read on to learn more about the possible causes of lupus.

Autoimmune diseases tend to run in families. Like other autoimmune conditions, lupus is thought to have a genetic component.

You may have a higher risk of developing lupus if a family member has lupus or another autoimmune condition. For this reason, researchers are investigating possible biomarkers to help diagnose and treat lupus early.

Currently, researchers believe that some people with lupus may have altered protein levels (either lower or higher than normal), which may affect the function of the immune system.

Lupus may also result from problems with cell turnover, which can lead to inflammation and damage to DNA and organs. More research is needed to explore this connection.

Certain environmental factors may trigger lupus. Some of the most common triggers are:

  • cigarette smoking
  • viral infections
  • certain medications, such as blood pressure medications, though not everyone who takes these develops lupus
  • excessive exposure to sunlight

In a 2023 study, researchers investigated other possible environmental triggers of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) that are less known. SLE is the most common type of lupus. Possible environmental triggers include:

  • pesticide exposure in agricultural settings
  • air pollution
  • passive smoking
  • stress
  • silica dust
  • heavy metals such as lead

While technically anyone may develop lupus, it’s nine times more common in females and most often begins at ages 15–45 years. Since lupus is much more common in females than in males, researchers continue to explore the hormonal connection.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lupus tends to develop in females during the years when they have a menstrual cycle, which is also when estrogen levels are at their highest.

Estrogen could possibly play a role in lupus development, but more research is needed to investigate this theory.

If you have lupus, you might experience flares and periods of remission. In some cases, triggers may cause flare-ups. Depending on the type of lupus you have, certain triggers may be more or less likely to cause flare-ups.

There are four types of lupus:

  • SLE: This is the most common type of lupus, with effects widespread throughout the body. When you hear or read information about lupus, health experts are usually referring to the SLE subtype.
  • Drug-induced lupus: Unlike SLE, this type of lupus is short-term and triggered by specific medications, such as blood pressure medications and antiseizure drugs.
  • Cutaneous lupus erythematosus: This type of lupus manifests in the skin only. Cutaneous lupus may be further classified into one of two subtypes: discoid or subacute. These types may occur with or without SLE.
  • Neonatal lupus: This rare type of lupus affects only newborn babies. While some babies may develop lupus due to genetics, this isn’t always the case.

Symptoms of a lupus flare may include:

  • fatigue
  • fever
  • rashes
  • joint pain
  • headache
  • mood changes

Possible triggers of lupus include:

  • getting too much sunlight exposure (especially in subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus)
  • experiencing a viral illness
  • having high stress levels
  • not getting enough rest or sleep
  • experiencing injuries or infections
  • eating an unhealthy diet
  • stopping your lupus medications or not taking them as prescribed

There is currently no cure for lupus. Since this disease has many suspected triggers and causes, there also is no known way to prevent it.

If you receive a lupus diagnosis, part of the goal of your treatment plan will be to prevent as many flare-ups as possible. This might involve a combination of medications, such as immunosuppressants and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Reducing the number of flares can also help prevent possible complications from lupus, including those that can affect your organs, such as lupus nephritis.

You can also consider asking your doctor about lifestyle strategies that may help prevent lupus flares. These may include stress management practices, a healthy diet, and regular exercise.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease with no single known cause.

While research into the exact causes is ongoing, experts believe that lupus is likely caused by a combination of factors, including a genetic predisposition and environmental triggers.

Lupus may also have a hormonal link.

No matter the exact cause, lupus is a complex condition that requires long-term treatment to prevent possible complications. If you’re experiencing symptoms of lupus, consider talking with a doctor about diagnosis and treatment options.