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Also called: Discoid lupus, SLE, Subacute cutaneous lupus, Systemic lupus erythematosus


What is lupus?

Lupus is a chronic (long-lasting) type of autoimmune disease.Autoimmune diseases happen when your immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues by mistake. This attack causes inflammation. It can also damage many parts of the body, including the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, and brain.

There are several types of lupus:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common type. It can be mild or severe and can affect many parts of the body.
  • Cutaneous lupus affects the skin. It causes a rash or sores, usually after your skin is exposed to sunlight. The two major types of cutaneous lupus are discoid lupus and subacute cutaneous lupus.
  • Drug-induced lupus is caused by a reaction to some medicines. The symptoms may start 3 to 6 months after starting the medicine. The symptoms usually go away when you stop taking the medicine.
  • Neonatal lupus, which is rare, affects newborns. It is caused by certain antibodies that are passed from the pregnant parent to the baby.

What causes lupus?

The cause of lupus is unknown. Researchers are studying what might cause or trigger the disease, such as:

Who is more likely to get lupus?

Anyone can get lupus, but women get it much more often than men.

Lupus is more common in African Americans than in White people. It is also more common in people of American Indian and Asian descent. African American and Hispanic women are more likely to have severe forms of lupus.

What are the symptoms of lupus?

Lupus can have many symptoms, and they differ from person to person. Some of the more common ones are:

Symptoms may come and go. When you are having symptoms, it is called a flare. Flares can range from mild to severe. New symptoms may appear at any time.

What other problems can lupus cause?

Lupus causes inflammation throughout your body. This can cause problems in your organs, including:

Some people with lupus may be more likely to develop other conditions, such as coronary artery disease (CAD) and atherosclerosis.

How is lupus diagnosed?

There is no specific test for lupus, and it's often mistaken for other diseases that cause similar symptoms. So it may take a while to get a diagnosis. To find out if you have lupus, your health care provider:

  • Will ask about your symptoms, medical history, and family health history
  • Will do a complete physical exam
  • May order blood tests, such as ANA (antinuclear antibody), antibodies, complete blood count, and complement tests
  • May order other tests, such as urine tests
  • May do biopsies:
    • Skin biopsy (looking at skin samples under a microscope)
    • Kidney biopsy (looking at tissue from your kidney under a microscope)

What are the treatments for lupus?

There is no cure for lupus, but medicines and lifestyle changes can help control it.

People with lupus often need to see different providers. You will most likely have a primary care provider and a rheumatologist (a doctor who specializes in diseases of the joints and muscles). Which other specialists you will depend on how lupus affects your body. For example, if lupus is damaging your heart or blood vessels, you would see a cardiologist (a doctor who specializes in heart diseases).

Your primary care provider should coordinate care between all of your other providers and treat other problems as they come up. You and your primary care provider will develop a treatment plan to fit your needs. You will both review the plan often to make sure that it is working. You should report new symptoms to your provider right away so that your treatment plan can be changed, if needed.

The goals of a treatment plan are to:

  • Prevent flares
  • Treat flares when they occur
  • Reduce organ damage and other problems
  • Improve your quality of life

Treatments may include drugs to:

  • Reduce fever, swelling, and pain
  • Reduce inflammation in your body
  • Prevent or reduce flares
  • Reduce or prevent damage to joints
  • Suppress (lower) the activity of your immune system

Besides taking medicines for lupus, you may need to take medicines for problems that are related to lupus such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or infection.

Alternative and complementary therapies are therapies that are not part of standard treatments. Some people try alternative and complementary therapies to improve their lupus symptoms. But research has not clearly shown whether these treatments may help or treat lupus. Talk to your provider before trying any new treatments.

How can I cope with lupus?

It is important to take an active role in your treatment. It helps to learn more about lupus - being able to spot the warning signs of a flare can help you prevent the flare or make the symptoms less severe.

It is also important to find ways to cope with the stress of having lupus. Exercising and finding ways to relax may make it easier for you to cope. A good support system can also help.

NIH: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

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The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.