According to the Lupus Foundation of America, an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 Americans with the autoimmune disease lupus eventually will develop lupus-related kidney disease, known as lupus nephritis. Lupus nephritis is one of the most serious manifestations of lupus and can lead to serious health problems, kidney failure, disability or death.
Lupus is the prototypical autoimmune disease which causes inflammation to various parts of the body, including major organs such as the kidneys. Approximately 1.5 million Americans have a form of lupus, mostly women. Lupus is more common among people of color, and African Americans have a higher rate of lupus kidney disease than do Caucasians. The exact reasons for this disparity are not know, but researchers have identified a gene associated with increased risk of lupus kidney disease in African Americans.
The immune system normally produces antibodies, or proteins, which protect the body from foreign invaders, such as viruses or bacteria. In people with lupus, the immune system produces abnormal antibodies, called autoantibodies, which form immune complexes that lodge in various tissues. Lupus nephritis occurs when autoantibodies form or are deposited in kidney tissue, causing inflammation and preventing the kidneys from functioning properly. Some people with lupus nephritis may have complete loss of kidney function. If this happens, a patient may need to go on dialysis or even need a kidney transplant.
Many advances have been made in treating kidney disease and, if caught early, treatment usually is effective. Medicines can decrease this inflammation. The most common medicines used are corticosteroids (which decrease inflammation) and cytotoxic or immunosuppressive drugs (which suppress the activity of the immune system).
Unfortunately, current treatments are toxic and can cause other serious health problems. No new drugs have been approved to treat lupus is nearly 40 years. However, several promising new therapies are undergoing clinical study or awaiting approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.