If you have lupus, you probably have many questions. Lupus isn’t a
simple disease with an easy answer. You can’t take a pill and make it go away.
The people you live with and work with may have trouble understanding that
you’re sick. Lupus doesn’t have a clear set of signs that people can see. You
may know that something’s wrong, even though it may take a while to be
Lupus has many shades. It can affect people of different races,
ethnicities, and ages, both men and women. It can look like different diseases.
It’s different for every person who has it.
The good news is that you can get help and fight lupus. Learning
about it is the first step. Ask questions. Talk to your doctor, family, and
friends. People who look for answers are more likely to find them. This section
can help you get started.
- What Is Lupus?
- What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lupus?
- What Is a Flare?
- What Causes Lupus?
- Who Gets Lupus?
- What Will the Doctor Do?
- Will I Get Medicine?
- How Can I Cope With Lupus?
- Hope Through Research
- Where Can People Find More Information About Lupus?
What Is Lupus?
Lupus is an autoimmune (AW-toe-ih-MYOON) disease. Your body’s
immune system is like an army with hundreds of soldiers. The immune system’s job
is to fight foreign substances in the body, like germs and viruses. But in
autoimmune diseases, the immune system is out of control. It attacks healthy
tissues, not germs.
You can’t catch lupus from another person. It isn’t cancer, and it
isn’t related to AIDS.
Lupus is a disease that can affect many parts of the body.
Everyone reacts differently. One person with lupus may have swollen knees and
fever. Another person may be tired all the time or have kidney trouble. Someone
else may have rashes. Lupus can involve the joints, the skin, the kidneys, the
lungs, the heart and/or the brain. If you have lupus, it may affect two or three
parts of your body. Usually, one person doesn’t have all the possible
There are three main types of lupus:
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (eh-RITH-eh-muh-TOE-sus) is the most
common form. It’s sometimes called SLE, or just lupus. The word “systemic” means
that the disease can involve many parts of the body such as the heart, lungs,
kidneys, and brain. SLE symptoms can be mild or serious.
- Discoid lupus erythematosus mainly affects the skin. A red rash may
appear, or the skin on the face, scalp, or elsewhere may change color.
- Drug-induced lupus is triggered by a few medicines. 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?
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
Common signs 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 with 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 are mouth sores, unexplained seizures (convulsions),
“seeing things” (hallucinations), repeated miscarriages, and unexplained kidney
What Is a Flare?
When 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.
Even if you take medicine for lupus, you may find that there are
times when the symptoms become worse. 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.
Preventing a Flare
What Causes Lupus?
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
Who Gets Lupus?
Anyone can get lupus. But 9 out of 10 people who have it are
women. African American women are three times more likely to get lupus than
white women. It’s also more common in Hispanic/Latino, Asian, and American
Both African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos tend to develop lupus
at a younger age and have more symptoms at diagnosis (including kidney
They also tend to have more severe disease than whites. For
example, African American patients have more seizures and strokes, while
Hispanic/Latino patients have more heart problems. We don’t understand why some
people seem to have more problems with lupus than others.
Lupus is most common in women between the ages of 15 and 44. These
are roughly the years when most women are able to have babies. Scientists think
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 under 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.
Diagnosis: How Do You Find Out If You Have Lupus?