Lupus is a chronic health issue where the immune system doesn't work in a normal way. The most common lupus type is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
Lupus symptoms can vary widely from person to person. Although there's no cure for lupus, treatments mean most people have a normal life span.
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Doctors define lupus as an autoimmune disease. That means the immune system mistakes normal, healthy cells and attacks them as if they're foreign agents.
This causes symptoms of inflammation, like swelling, redness, and pain.
Lupus is somewhat rare. Its most common type, SLE, affects about 5 out of 100,000 people in the U.S.
Lupus often involves periods of illness called "flares" and times of remission, where symptoms get better.
Lupus can be very serious. In severe cases, it can damage the heart and lungs and even affect the brain.
Routine checkups help people avoid these problems.
There's no single cause of lupus. But, genetics, environmental triggers, and hormones can increase the risk.
Researchers have found many genetic changes linked to lupus. No known gene causes lupus, nor is there a single genetic test to confirm lupus.
Studies have found that lupus occurs more often after contact with certain viruses, including the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).
That said, most people who get EBV won't get lupus.
Certain medicines and chemicals, like silica, can also trigger lupus.
Researchers have linked high amounts of sun exposure with a higher risk of lupus. It can also worsen symptoms in people who have lupus.
Estrogen and prolactin (the hormone that makes milk when breastfeeding) can also play a role in lupus.
Untreated inflammation from lupus can cause serious health problems.
People may have mild or severe lupus symptoms. Your symptoms vary from day to day.
Lupus symptoms include:
People with cutaneous-only lupus may have one or more of these symptoms:
There's no single test for lupus. Instead, doctors put different pieces together to arrive at a diagnosis.
Doctors diagnose lupus partly based on your symptoms and after ruling out other reasons.
Your doctor will ask you:
Your doctor will likely do a physical exam to assess your heart rate, reflexes, and health. In many cases, they'll also order tests.
Certain results can make it more likely lupus is the cause of your symptoms. Or test results might point to another diagnosis.
Lab tests include:
While there's no cure for lupus, early diagnosis and treatment can help you manage lupus symptoms. Treatment can also reduce the chance of lasting damage to your organs or tissues.
Because it differs for each person, UPMC lupus experts choose treatments based on your unique needs.
Doctors often increase medicines during times of 'flares' and reduce the dosage as your symptoms go away. This can help avoid severe side effects from taking steroids or other drugs on a long-term basis.
People with lupus need to see their provider on a routine basis. Timely testing and treatments prevent lupus-related health problems.
Medicine can treat pain with lupus, prevent further issues, and lower immune overactivity. Most drugs for lupus are oral, but people with severe lupus may, at times, need IV medicines.
Doctors often prescribe:
You can also avoid lupus flares if you learn to:
Thanks to treatments, 80% to 90% of people with lupus have a normal life span.Back to top