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Lupus 'linked to reproduction'

7th July 2009

Researchers in Denmark say that reproductive factors could be linked to lupus, an autoimmune disorder which mainly affects women.

pregnancy

Also known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the syndrome is believed to be linked to female reproduction because it mostly affects women of childbearing age.

A team of researchers at Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen published a report in a recent edition of the Journal of Rheumatology that the "female predominance in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) suggests the possible involvement of reproductive factors in its aetiology".

Led by Morten Frisch, the researchers added that they evaluated the relationship between parity and pregnancy losses and subsequent risk of SLE in a population-based cohort study.

To do this, they calculated how many of a group of 4.4 million had been hospitalised with SLE from 1977 to 2004: which yielded a total of 1614 women and 274 men.

While childbirth was clearly ruled out as a factor in the male patients, researchers found that women with at least one child had a lower risk of the disease than women who had never given birth.

Women who had two children had a still lower risk than women who had given birth to just one.

The researchers concluded that nulliparous women, one-child mothers and women who experienced spontaneous abortions, missed abortions or stillbirths were at increased SLE risk.

They speculated that immunological processes involved in subfertility or idiopathic pregnancy losses might act as initiating or contributing factors in some cases of SLE.

They said women who already had SLE were more likely to experience complications in pregnancy, leading them to believe that immunological processes were going on undetected in women before SLE was diagnosed.

Caused by a fault in the body's immune system, lupus means that the immune system starts to attack body tissues, causing inflammation in those tissues.

Lupus sufferers report a wide range of symptoms in different parts of the body, making the disease hard to detect and classify.

This is because the autoimmune response can affect various systems and organs.

It is a disorder which affects mostly young women, is nine times more common in women than in men, and has a higher incidence in young women.

Africans and Caribbeans are the most likely to suffer from lupus, with 1 in 150-500 women developing the condition. By contrast, 1 in 1,000 Chinese women will get it, and 1 in 4,000 white women.


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