Skip to content
    Select An Article

    Understanding Lupus -- the Basics

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    What Is Lupus?

    Lupus is an autoimmune disease, which means that the immune system mistakes the body's own tissues as foreign invaders and attacks them. Some people with lupus suffer only minor inconvenience. Others suffer significant lifelong disability.

    Lupus affects people of African, Asian, or Native American descent two to three times as often as it affects whites. Nine out of 10 people with lupus are women. The disease usually strikes between age 15 and 44, although it can occur in older individuals.

    Recommended Related to Lupus

    Frequently Asked Questions About Lupus

    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.

    Read the Frequently Asked Questions About Lupus article > >

    There are two kinds of lupus:

    • Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE)
    • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)

    DLE mainly affects skin that is exposed to sunlight and doesn’t typically affect vital internal organs. Discoid (circular) skin lesions often leave scars after healing of the lesions.

    SLE is more serious: It affects the skin and other vital organs, and can cause a raised, scaly, butterfly-shaped rash across the bridge of the nose and cheeks that can leave scars if untreated. SLE can also affect other parts of the skin elsewhere on the body.

    Aside from the visible effects of systemic lupus, the disease may also inflame and/or damage the connective tissue in the joints, muscles, and skin, along with the membranes surrounding or within the lungs, heart, kidneys, and brain. SLE can also cause kidney disease. Brain involvement is rare, but for some, lupus can cause confusion, depression, seizures, and strokes.

    Blood vessels may come under attack with systemic lupus. This can cause sores to develop on the skin, especially the fingers. Some lupus patients get Raynaud's syndrome, which makes the small blood vessels in the skin contract, preventing blood from getting to the hands and feet -- especially in response to cold. Most attacks last only a few minutes, can be painful, and often turn the hands and feet white or a bluish color. Lupus patients with Raynaud’s syndrome should keep their hands warm with gloves during cold weather.

    What Causes Lupus?

    No single factor is known to cause lupus. Research suggests that a combination of genetic, hormonal, environmental, and immune system factors may be behind it. Environmental factors, ranging from viral and bacterial infections to severe emotional stress or overexposure to sunlight, may play a role in provoking or triggering the disease. Certain drugs, such as the blood pressure drug hydralazine and the heart rhythm drug procainamide, may cause lupus-like symptoms. High estrogen levels resulting from pregnancy may aggravate lupus.

    WebMD Medical Reference

    Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 22, 2015
    Next Article:

    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