The basic problem is in an alteration in the immune system. The normal immune system, which produces antibodies against foreign invaders, such as bacteria, goes into ‘overdrive’ and produces too many antibodies. This in turn can affect any organ in the body.

The cause is not known. There is a definite genetic tendency but despite years of research, no virus or infectious cause can be identified. Neither is there strong evidence of an environmental cause, although sunlight and smoking have been implicated.

The current figure for estimated sufferers is 1 in 750 Caucasian females and as high as 1 in 250 amongst Afro-Caribbean & Asian females. Although the cause is not known, research suggests that hereditary factors play a role. Advances in genetics have dramatically improved the pace of research for discovering the genes that contribute to lupus susceptibility, severity and mortality. The identification of these genes will provide a framework for understanding the basis of this illness.