The UPMC Lupus Center of Excellence offers comprehensive care for lupus patients. Our specialized physicians carefully review each patient’s history and administer a physical examination and lab tests to ensure a proper diagnosis.
Once a diagnosis of lupus is confirmed, our team develops individualized treatment plans to help patients manage the disease and lead a normal and active lifestyle.
Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect virtually any organ system of the body, but mostly involves the skin, joints, kidney, brain, blood, and heart. Normally, the body’s immune system forms antibodies that identify and act against foreign cells, such as bacteria. In lupus, autoantibodies (a group of antibodies that mistakenly target and damage specific tissues or organs of the body) attack the body’s healthy tissues and organs. Lupus can be characterized by periods of illness known as "flares." It is also common for the disease to go into remission, or inactivity.
Nine of 10 patients with lupus are women. Women of African American, Hispanic, and Asian descent are more likely to develop lupus than Caucasian women.
The exact cause of lupus is unknown. Experts believe that lupus may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, but sometimes it can be triggered by the use of certain medications. When it is medication-related, discontinuation of the drug often helps to resolve the symptoms. Sometimes, lupus may affect the skin only, with no internal organ involvement.
To diagnose lupus, doctors look for physical or laboratory evidence of the condition, such as swelling of joints, protein in the urine, fluid around the lungs or heart, or a skin biopsy that shows evidence of the disease.
Lupus is often considered the "great imitator," since many diseases can mimic lupus symptoms. Examples include fibromyalgia, thyroid disease, infections, rheumatoid arthritis, and a host of other conditions.
Typically, four or more of the following criteria must be present to make a diagnosis of systemic lupus.
Signs and symptoms of lupus may change over time and overlap with those of many other disorders. The doctor may also order blood and urine tests to determine the diagnosis.
While there is no cure for lupus, early diagnosis and treatment can help patients manage the symptoms and lessen the chance of permanent damage to organs or tissues. Because lupus is different for every person, UPMC lupus experts administer treatments and medications based on individual needs. Determining whether signs and symptoms should be treated and which medications to use requires a careful discussion of the benefits and risks.
Some of the common medications used to treat lupus include:
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)
Mycophenolate mofetil (Cellcept)
Aspirin/Warfarin (Coumadin, blood thinners)
Other important components of lupus therapy include supportive care and counseling, treatment for depression and anxiety, use of sunscreen to protect against "flares," treatment for associated fibromyalgia, and pain management.
Each of these complex treatments requires regular blood work and disease monitoring to ensure their safety and efficacy. Lupus patients should be seen by a lupus expert or rheumatologist every three to four months to assess disease activity and to help control any ongoing symptoms and monitor for drug side-effects.