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What is Lupus?

Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body (skin, joints, and/or organs inside the body). Chronic means that the signs and symptoms tend to last longer than six weeks and often for many years. In lupus, something goes wrong with your immune system, which is the part of the body that fights off viruses, bacteria, and germs (“foreign invaders,” like the flu). Normally, our immune system produces proteins called antibodies that protect the body from these invaders. Autoimmune means your immune system cannot tell the difference between these foreign invaders and your body’s healthy cells (“auto” means “self”) and creates autoantibodies that attack and destroy healthy cells. These autoantibodies cause inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body. 

Some of the most common lupus symptoms

  • Extreme fatigue that doesn’t go away with rest

  • Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling in two or more joints

  • Fever over 100°F

  • Muscle pain

  • Hair loss

  • Skin sores and rashes (which may occur in a butterfly-shaped pattern across the cheeks and nose)

  • Nose or mouth sores (usually painless)

  • Skin rashes after sun exposure



Keep a careful eye on your symptoms.

Do they change over time? How are they affecting your daily life? Do they prevent you from doing things that you enjoy? Does lupus make you feel isolated, depressed, or frustrated? These are all important factors to share with your doctor. 

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Types of Lupus

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

Often abbreviated as SLE, systemic lupus erythematosus is the most common form of lupus. SLE affects multiple organs of the body at once, and can cause tissue damage and inflammation. While the causes are unknown, it is believed to have genetic, environmental, and hormonal factors. SLE also makes up about 70 percent of all lupus cases.

Childhood Lupus

This form of lupus generally affects children in the same manner as lupus that affects adults. It can be more specific in children, however, as childhood lupus seems to seriously affect the kidneys more than other organs. Childhood lupus also happens and develops more often than adult lupus. Signs and symptoms are the same as that as SLE. Childhood lupus is trickier to treat, as physicians need to keep in mind of the risks it poses to put the affected child on long-term therapy and medications. Some medications may result in side effects that can affect the child later on in life, after childhood lupus has been managed. Lupus can be a debilitating disease that can decrease the affected individual’s quality of life drastically. Although there is no current definitive treatment or cure for lupus, it can be effectively managed to alleviate episodic flare-ups. Since signs and symptoms for lupus can be similar to other illnesses, it is best to seek a second opinion to avoid misdiagnosis. If you suspect you have lupus and are experiencing symptoms, be sure to see your health care professional to get it diagnosed or ruled out.

Neonatal Lupus Erythematosus

This is a rare form of lupus that affects babies that are born to mothers who usually have lupus. This takes place when the mother’s lupus antibodies act on the infant in the womb, so upon birth, the baby can have skin rash, low white blood cell counts and liver problems. In most cases, affected babies will recover eventually with no lasting effects. In some cases, however, neonatal lupus can lead to heart defects that may require pacemakers for the rest of the infant’s life. Talk to your doctor about prenatal lupus testing if you are concerned.

Drug-Induced Lupus Erythematosus

This form of lupus, true to its name, is triggered by certain medications. The signs and symptoms are typical of lupus, and include joint pain, muscle pain and fever. It does not, however, affect the body systemically, so other organs are not affected. The “trigger” drugs are mostly for other chronic conditions, such as seizure, rheumatoid arthritis, tuberculosis, irregular heart rhythms, and high blood pressure. Once the medication is stopped, symptoms of lupus will usually disappear within 6 months. It should be noted that taking the typical “trigger” medications will not put a person at higher risk of contracting lupus, so they should still be taken as directed.

Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus

 This type of lupus is limited to the skin, but it can also occur along with SLE. Symptoms of lupus limited to the skin include rashes, lesions, loss of hair, dilated blood vessels (so that they can be seen through the skin), ulcers and sensitivity to the sun. There are three types of cutaneous lupus erythematosus:


  • Subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus: this form of skin-limited lupus, also known as SCLE, makes up about 10 percent of all lupus cases. 50 percent of affected individuals may also eventually develop SLE. While there is skin lesions associated with subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus, such lesions usually do not leave scars.

  • Discoid cutaneous lupus erythematosus: also abbreviated as DLE and known as chronic cutaneous lupus erythematosus, this form of skin-limiting lupus is characterized by red, raised rash that eventually becomes scaly or turns into a dark brown color. They mostly appear on the face and scalp, but can also appear in other parts of the body. Lesions can also appear as sores in the mouth or nose, and can leave scars. Currently, there is no correlation on whether DLE can lead to SLE later in life.

  • Tumid lupus: this form of skin-limiting lupus is characterized by large plaques that develop on the trunk, or body, of the affected individual. It happens when the skin is exposed to the sun, and the plaques are usually formed from clusters of small papules.

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