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Lupus is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease that can affect many parts of your body, including your skin, joints, kidneys, blood cells, heart and lungs. Episodes of lupus tend to come and go throughout your life, and they may make you feel tired and achy.

Lupus occurs in several types, including systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), discoid and drug-induced. SLE is the most common type and causes the most difficulties. It can lead to problems such as fever, swollen joints, anemia and kidney failure. Lupus is most commonly diagnosed when people are between 15 and 45 years old.

The diagnosis and treatment of lupus has improved tremendously in the past few decades. If you take care of yourself and get proper medical treatment, you usually can still lead an active, healthy life.

Signs and symptoms

Not everyone with lupus experiences the same signs and symptoms. Symptoms may be mild or severe, and you may have times when you have no signs or symptoms of the disease at all. Some common signs and symptoms associated with the disease are:

  • Rash. A butterfly-shaped rash, called a malar rash, may appear across the bridge of your nose and cheeks. Or a scaly, disk-shaped rash called a discoid rash may appear on your face, neck or chest.

  • Sensitivity to sunlight. People with lupus often experience severe rashes or sunburns after minimal sun exposure.

  • Oral ulcers. Sores that are usually painless may appear on your tongue or inside your mouth.

  • Arthritis. You may experience joint pain, stiffness and swelling. Joints commonly affected include the fingers, hands, wrists and knees.

  • Serositis. Inflammation of the lining of organs such as your heart and lungs can cause painful breathing, shortness of breath or chest pain.

  • Kidney problems. You may have kidney problems such as inflammation. This can occur without any signs or symptoms, or you may have leg swelling (edema) and high blood pressure.

  • Brain or spinal cord problems. You may experience headaches, seizures, dizziness, vision problems, behavior changes or stroke.

Other signs and symptoms also may occur that are not specific to lupus. These include:

  • Fatigue.

  • Fever. An unexplained fever may be an early sign of lupus.

  • Raynaud's phenomenon. In this condition your fingers, toes, nose and ears turn pale when exposed to cold temperatures.

  • Chest pain. A cough may accompany this pain.

  • Swelling. You may have swollen glands or swelling in your legs or around your eyes.

  • Digestive problems. These problems may include abdominal pain, weight loss, nausea and vomiting.

  • Hair loss. Because lupus may affect the skin of your scalp, you may experience some hair loss.

People with lupus may also experience depression or difficulty concentrating, either because of the disease or as a reaction to living with a chronic disease.


Lupus is an autoimmune disease, meaning that instead of just attacking foreign substances, such as bacteria and viruses, your body's defenses also attack your own tissues and cause inflammation. The cause is unknown, but doctors believe it results from a combination of factors, which may include heredity, environment and hormones. Although lupus itself can't be directly inherited, it's likely that inheriting a certain combination of genes makes you more susceptible to developing this condition. A viral or bacterial infection may then trigger the disease. Because so many more women than men have lupus, researchers are also looking at the possible involvement of hormones, such as estrogen.

Risk factors

Although anyone can develop lupus at any age, common risk factors include:

  • Sex. Women are approximately nine times more likely than men to develop lupus.

  • Race. Blacks are about three times more likely than whites to develop lupus. Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans also are more likely to develop lupus.

  • Family history. Having a relative who has lupus increases your odds of developing the disease.

  • Pregnancy. Lupus sometimes shows up for the first time during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth. The disease may also flare after a woman with lupus gives birth.

When to seek medical advice

If you develop an unexplained rash, fever, persistent aching or fatigue, see your doctor. If you've already been diagnosed with lupus, meet with your doctor on a regular basis so that he or she can monitor your condition and treatment. Also, because people who have lupus can experience different symptoms at different times, see your doctor if new symptoms arise. This includes symptoms such as depression.


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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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