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What is Lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system loses its ability to tell the difference between foreign substances (antigens) and its own cells and tissues. Because of the inability of the immune system to distinguish between foreign substances and its own cells, the immune system makes antibodies directed against healthy tissues and cells in the body. The immune complexes build up in the tissues and can cause inflammation, injury to tissues, and pain.

For most people, lupus is a mild disease affecting only a few organs. For others, it may cause serious and even life-threatening problems. Lupus can affect various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, blood, lungs, heart, and kidneys.

Lupus tends to have unpredictable flares, called exacerbations, and improvements. It is not easy to predict when lupus will flare up or get better. Flares tend to follow infection, end of pregnancy, and other stressful events.

Lupus is not a form of cancer, and you cannot "catch" it from another person. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, 90% of people with lupus will have a normal life span.

Living with lupus

Types of Lupus

There are three types of lupus: discoid (cutaneous), systemic, and drug-induced.

Discoid (cutaneous) lupus is always limited to the skin. It is identified by a rash that may appear on the face, neck, and scalp. It is diagnosed by examining a biopsy of the rash. In discoid lupus the biopsy will show abnormalities that are not found in skin without the rash. Discoid lupus does not generally involve the body's internal organs.

In approximately 10 percent of patients, discoid lupus can evolve into the systemic form of the disease, which can affect almost any organ or system of the body.

Systemiclupus is usually more severe than discoid lupus, and can affect almost any organ or system of the body. For some people, only the skin and joints will be involved. In others, the joints, lungs, kidneys, blood, or other organs and/or tissues may be affected. Usually when people mention "lupus," they are referring to the systemic form of the disease.

Drug-induced lupus occurs after the use of certain prescribed drugs. The drugs most commonly connected with drug-induced lupus are hydralazine (used to treat high blood pressure or hypertension) and procainamide (used to treat irregular heart rhythms). The symptoms usually fade when the medications are discontinued.

What Causes Lupus?

Currently, the cause(s) of lupus is unknown, but research is being conducted in effort to find the cause.

Can Lupus be Treated?

Lupus can be treated. For most people with lupus, effective treatment can minimize symptoms, reduce inflammation, and maintain normal bodily functions. Lupus treatment will be based on the specific needs and symptoms of each person and may vary between individuals. Some of the treatments include: Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin, ibuprofen and many others).

Symptoms of Lupus

Some of the most common symptoms of lupus are:

  • Achy joints (arthralgia)
  • Fever more than 100 degrees F (38 degrees C)
  • Arthritis (swollen joints)
  • Prolonged or extreme fatigue
  • Skin Rashes
  • Anemia
  • Pain in the chest on deep breathing (pleurisy)
  • Butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks and nose
  • Sun or light sensitivity (photosensitivity)
  • Hair loss
  • Abnormal blood clotting problems
  • Raynaud's phenomenon (fingers turning white and/or blue in the cold)
  • Seizures
  • Mouth or nose ulcers

Lupus Statistics

  • More than 16,000 Americans develop lupus each year.
  • It is estimated that 500,000 to 1.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with lupus.
  • African Americans are three times as likely as whites to die from lupus.
  • Women are five times more likely than men to die from lupus.

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