What Is Lupus

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes damage to bodily tissues resulting in inflammation of the skin, organs, and/or joints. Lupus symptoms typically come and go in periods of flares and remissions. Types of lupus include:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common form of lupus and results in the broadest range of symptoms, including swelling of the joints, fatigue, skin rashes, and organ tissue inflammation.
  • Discoid lupus erythematosusis less common than SLE and manifests itself mainly as a persistent skin rash.
  • Subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus is characterized by a skin rash that develops mainly in sun-exposed areas of the skin such as the upper back, shoulders, arms, and neck.
  • Drug-induced lupus, which is brought about by reactions to specific medications.
  • Neonatal lupus is a rare form of lupus that develops shortly after birth.

An estimated 5 million people worldwide suffer from lupus, 1.5 million of those being American.

What Causes Lupus

Lupus occurs when the body’s immune system becomes overactive and attacks the body’s healthy tissues, causing pain, swelling, and inflammation. The exact trigger of the immune response is unknown. Researchers and scientists believe that a combination of the following may play a role in the development of lupus:

Environmental factors including:

  • Viruses/bacterial infection
  • Ultraviolet light (from either the sun or fluorescent light bulbs)
  • Sun-sensitizing drugs such as sulfa drugs and tetracycline drugs.
  • Major life events such or emotional stress
  • Extreme stress

Genetics. Specific genes have not been linked to the lupus, however the disease can run in families and is more prevalent among certain ethnic groups (including those of African American and Hispanic/Latino descent).

Hormones. Approximately 90% of those who suffer from lupus are women. Female lupus patients also experience worsened symptoms during pregnancy and menstruation, which are conditions characterized by large fluctuations in hormones, leading researchers to suspect a potential link to female sex hormones. 

Risk Factors For Lupus

The following risk factors are associated with lupus:

  • Sex. 9 out of 10 lupus patients are female.
  • Age. Lupus most commonly affects women of a childbearing age, with 15-44 being the average age range for lupus diagnosis. Lupus can, however, develop at any age.
  • Ethnicity. People of African American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, and Native Hawaiian descent are more likely to develop lupus than Caucasians.
  • Family History. The risk of developing lupus is more than 10% higher for those who have family members affected by the disease.

Diagnosing Lupus

Coming to a lupus diagnosis can be a complicated and difficult process. Lupus often has widespread symptoms and may present itself differently in different patients, so each lupus diagnosis requires the expert of opinion of a doctor who is able to piece together a multitude of test results. There is no single, definitive test result for lupus. The following tests may be used by your doctor in order to arrive at a lupus diagnosis:

  • Physical examination, to look for physical signs of lupus including swelling and skin rashes.
  • Medical history, including a family history, to assess your personal and genetic risk of developing the disease.
  • Laboratory tests, including an antinuclear antibody test (ANA). 97% percent of lupus patients have a positive ANA result, though other diseases may also result in a positive ANA test result.

Symptoms of Lupus

Lupus can cause a variety of symptoms. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, the following are the most common Lupus symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Painful or swollen joints
  • Fever
  • Anemia
  • Swelling in feet, legs, hands, and/or around eyes.
  • Pain in chest when breathing deeply
  • Butterfly-shaped rash across cheeks and nose
  • Sun/light sensitivity
  • Hair loss
  • Abnormal blood clotting
  • Mouth or nose ulcers
  • White or blue coloring in fingers when cold


The prognosis for lupus varies from case to case. Recent developments in medicine and treatment technologies have made lupus an increasingly manageable disease. A 2006 study of 207 lupus patients found that survival rates for lupus are approximately as follows:

  • 5 years – 96%
  • 10 years – 93%
  • 15 years – 76% 

Living With Lupus

The following tips can help you manage your lupus symptoms and reduce your risk of a lupus flare-up:

  • Exercise regularlyto help retain muscle strength, promote relaxation, and prevent fatigue.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Follow your treatment plan, including all medications as prescribed. Stopping a treatment plan before your doctor’s recommendation can cause symptoms to reoccur
  • Avoid excess exposure to sunlight. Extended sunlight exposure has been linked to lupus flare ups.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Talk to a registered dietitian about what plan works best for you. 


Lupus is not a disease that is regularly screened for because of its wide variety of symptoms and fairly rare instance rate. If you think that you are experiencing lupus symptoms contact your doctor.


There are no known ways to prevent lupus.

Medication And Treatment

There are a variety of medications and treatments available to treat lupus.

Medications commonly used to treat lupus include:

Immunomodulators, which suppress the immune system, preventing it from attacking the body’s healthy tissues. Popular immunomodulators include:

  • Cellcept
  • Cytoxan
  • Imuran
  • Methotrexate

Medications to reduce inflammation and assist with pain, including:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Acetaminophen
  • Corticosteroids

Other treatment options your doctor may recommend include:

  • An exercise regimen to help combat fatigue and muscle weakness
  • Lifestyle changes such as reducing sun exposure, altering daily schedules to allow for rest and avoid stress, and eating a healthy diet. 

Complementary and Alternative Treatment

The following alternative treatments may be able to reduce your lupus symptoms:

Dietary restrictions. Some studies suggest that inflammatory lupus symptoms may be linked to food allergies. An elimination of inflammatory foods may help reduce symptoms. A registered dietitian will be able to construct a diet plan that is best for you.

Dietary supplements, including:

  • Vitamin B complex, which helps replenish stomach acidity.
  • Hydrochloric acid, which also helps replenish stomach acidity.
  • Vitamin B6, which can help prevent medication-induced lupus.

Homeopathic remedies. Homeopathic medicines consist of diluted plant extracts that work to stimulate the body to assist it in its response to disease. The following homeopathic remedies may help reduce lupus symptoms:

  • Cistus Canadensis
  • Thuja
  • Nux vomica

Herbal medicines, including:

  • South African Pennywort
  • Tripterygium
  • Licorice
  • Wild yam

Mind/body techniques, including:

  •  Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Meditation

When To Contact A Doctor

If you feel that you are experiencing any of the symptoms of lupus, contact your doctor. . [NOTE: hyperlink to symptoms section]

If you are undergoing treatment for lupus, contact your doctor immediately if you experience:

  • Worsening symptoms
  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Reduced feeling in the limbs, hands, and feet

Questions For A Doctor

You may want to ask your doctor the following questions:

  • How long is it likely that my symptoms will last?
  • What treatments are available?
  • How effective are treatments?
  • What are the side effects?
  • What is my expected prognosis?
  • Is my family at risk of developing lupus?
  • Am I still able to have children?
  • How will this affect my day to day life?
  • How long do flare ups and remissions typically last?
  • What can I do to prevent a flare up?

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