Skip to content

Lupus Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Frequently Asked Questions About Lupus

  • What is lupus?
  • Answer:

    Lupus is an autoimmune disease. The immune system's job is to fight foreign substances in the body, such as germs and viruses. But in autoimmune diseases, the immune system attacks healthy tissues, not germs.

    Lupus is a disease that can affect many parts of the body. Lupus can involve the joints, the skin, the kidneys, the lungs, the heart, and/or the brain. If you have lupus, it may affect several parts of your body. Usually, one person doesn't have all the possible symptoms.

  • What causes lupus?
  • Answer:

    We don't know what causes lupus. There is no cure, but in most cases lupus can be managed. Lupus sometimes seems to run in families, which suggests the disease may be hereditary. Having the genes isn't the whole story, though. The environment, sunlight, stress, and certain medicines may trigger symptoms in some people. Other people who have similar genetic backgrounds may not get signs or symptoms of the disease. Researchers are trying to find out why.

  • Are there different types of lupus?
  • Answer:

    The different types of lupus include:

    • Systemic lupus erythematosus (eh-RITH-eh-muh-TOE-sus) is the most common form. The word "systemic" means that the disease can involve many parts of the body. SLE symptoms can be mild or serious.
    • Discoid lupus erythematosus mainly affects the skin. A red, circular rash may appear, or the skin on the face, scalp, or elsewhere may change color. Discoid lupus rashes often leave scars or light-colored patches of skin after it heals.
    • Drug-induced lupus is triggered by a certain drugs. It's like SLE, but symptoms are usually milder. Most of the time, the disease goes away when the medicine is stopped. More men develop drug-induced lupus because the drugs that cause it, hydralazine and procainamide, are used to treat heart conditions that are more common in men.

     

  • What are the signs and symptoms of lupus?
  • Answer:

    Lupus may be hard to diagnose. It's often mistaken for other diseases. For this reason, lupus has been called the "great imitator." The signs of lupus differ from person to person. Some people have just a few signs; others have more.

    Common symptoms of lupus are:

    • Red rash or color change on the face, often in the shape of a butterfly across the nose and cheeks
    • Painful or swollen joints
    • Unexplained fever
    • Chest pain during deep breathing
    • Swollen glands
    • Extreme fatigue (feeling tired all the time)
    • Unusual hair loss (mainly on the scalp)
    • Pale or purple fingers or toes from cold or stress
    • Sensitivity to the sun
    • Low blood count
    • Depression, trouble thinking, and/or memory problems

    Other signs of lupus are mouth sores, unexplained seizures (convulsions), "seeing things" (hallucinations), repeated miscarriages, and kidney problems.

  • What is a flare in lupus?
  • Answer:

    When lupus symptoms appear, it's called a "flare." These signs may come and go. You may have swelling and rashes one week and no symptoms at all the next. You may find that your symptoms flare after you've been out in the sun or after a hard day at work.

    Learning to recognize that a flare is coming can help you take steps to cope with it. Many people feel very tired or have pain, a rash, a fever, stomach discomfort, headache, or dizziness just before a flare. Steps to prevent flares, such as limiting the time you spend in the sun and getting enough rest and quiet, can also be helpful.

  • How can I prevent a lupus flare?
  • Answer:

     

    • Learn to recognize that a lupus flare is coming.
    • Talk with your doctor.
    • Try to set realistic goals and priorities.
    • Limit the time you spend in the sun and use sunscreen.
    • Maintain a healthy diet.
    • Develop coping skills to help limit stress.
    • Get enough rest and quiet.
    • Moderately exercise when possible.

    Develop a support system by surrounding yourself with people you trust and feel comfortable with (family, friends, etc.).

  • Who gets lupus?
  • Answer:

    Anyone can get lupus. But nine out of 10 people who have it are women. Black women are three times more likely to get lupus than white women. It's also more common in Hispanic/Latino, Asian, and American Indian women.

    Both blacks and Hispanics/Latinos tend to develop lupus at a younger age and have more symptoms at diagnosis (including kidney problems).

    They also tend to have more severe disease than whites. For example, black patients have more seizures and strokes, while Hispanic/Latino patients have more heart problems.

    Lupus is most common in women between the ages of 15 and 44. Scientists say a woman's hormones may have something to do with getting lupus. But it's important to remember that men and older people can get it, too.

    It's less common for children younger than age 15 to have lupus. One exception is babies born to women with lupus. These children may have heart, liver, or skin problems caused by lupus. With good care, most women with lupus can have a normal pregnancy and a healthy baby.

  • How is lupus diagnosed?
  • Answer:

    No single test can diagnose lupus. Your doctor may have to run several tests and study your medical history. It may take time for the doctor to diagnose lupus.

    Telling a doctor about your symptoms and other problems you have had can help him or her understand your situation. Your history can provide clues to your disease.

    The doctor will look for rashes and other signs that something is wrong.

    Blood and urine may be done and samples often show if your immune system is overactive.

    A biopsy (removal of a sample of tissue) may be examined under a microscope. Skin or kidney tissue examined in this way can show signs of an autoimmune disease.

  • Will I get medicine for lupus?
  • Answer:

    Remember that each person with lupus has different symptoms. Treatment depends on the symptoms. The doctor may give you aspirin or a similar medicine to treat swollen joints and fever. Creams may be prescribed for a rash. For more serious problems, stronger medicines such as antimalaria drugs, corticosteroids, and chemotherapy drugs are used. Your doctor will choose a treatment based on your symptoms and needs.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on September 25, 2014

Today on WebMD

grocery shopping list
And the memory problems that may come with it.
Lupus rash on nails
A detailed, visual guide.
 
sunburst filtering through leaves
You might be extra sensitive to UV light. Read on.
fruit drinks
For better focus in your life.
 
Woman rubbing shoulder
Slideshow
Bag of cosmetics
Video
 
young woman hiding face
Quiz
pregnant woman
Article
 
5 Lupus Risk Factors
Article
Young adult couple
Article
 
doctor advising patient
Article
sticky notes on face
Video
 

WebMD Special Sections