Is Lupus Hereditary?

Characterized by inflammation, lupus is an autoimmune disease that can impact one's skin, joints, kidneys, brain, lungs, and more (via Mayo Clinic). The Lupus Foundation of America reports that 5 million or more people around the globe are affected by lupus. In the U.S., approximately 1.5 million people have lupus.

Those with lupus often experience different symptoms depending on what form of the condition they have. Generally speaking, however, common symptoms include fever, fatigue, joint pain, dry eyes, shortness of breath, chest pain, and finger and toe discoloration, amongst others. While cases can vary in terms of severity, duration, and progression, one tell-tale sign of lupus is often the spreading of a wing-like rash across the nose and cheeks.

While certain factors have been identified in connection to lupus, the cause of the disease is ultimately unknown. Such factors may include UV ray exposure, infection, or the use of specific medications. There is also some evidence that genetics contributes to someone's risk of developing the disease. Here's what we know.

The role of genes in lupus risk

While there does appear to be a genetic component to one's risk for lupus, no one specific gene (or genes) has been identified as the root cause of the condition, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. However, there may be a potential connection between certain gene variants and the chance that one will develop lupus — and those with a genetic susceptibility to the condition may be more likely to develop lupus in response to an environmental trigger, such as sunlight (via the Mayo Clinic). 

One's risk for lupus may increase if the condition runs in the family, particularly if an immediate relative is diagnosed. This has been observed in cases of identical twins, in which one twin may be more likely to develop lupus if the other twin has it. However, the risk is not markedly high and stands below 50%. The risk shows to be even lower for fraternal twin siblings. Having a parent with lupus is a predisposing factor as well — around 5% of children who have a parent with lupus will go on to develop the disease. However, lupus can still develop in individuals regardless of heredity. Sex, age, and race may also be contributing risk factors.

Are there genetic tests for lupus?

While there are no genetic tests one can take in regards to lupus, certain blood and urine tests may be used by doctors to potentially diagnose the condition in those experiencing symptoms (per Lupus Foundation of America). Such exams may include a complete blood count, kidney or liver assessments, an antinuclear antibody (ANA) test, urinalysis, and more (via Mayo Clinic). A chest X-ray or echocardiogram may also be used to diagnose cases of lupus potentially impacting lung or heart health.

In the event that you or a loved one develops symptoms such as rashes, unusual chest pain, or pain or swelling in the joints, be sure to speak to your physician, particularly if lupus runs in the family. However, it is not generally advised to seek testing if no symptoms are present, as many of these tests alone will not be able to definitively confirm a diagnosis of lupus.