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What is Lupus?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects different parts of the body, including the joints, skin, blood, and kidneys. It is a condition in which the body's immune system attacks its own cells and tissues, resulting in pain, inflammation, and organ damage. For many people, the disease is mild and the symptoms manageable, but some patients may develop severe symptoms and life-threatening complications.


Doctors do not know the exact cause of this disease. Some evidence suggests that having a close blood relative with the illness can raise the risk factor of developing lupus, but an exact genetic link has not yet been discovered. Even those who are genetically susceptible to the disease may never actually develop it. In some cases, other factors, such as excessive exposure to sunlight or the long-term use of certain medications, may trigger the condition. The illness is much more common in women than in men, though there is no known explanation for this factor.

Symptoms are caused by a malfunctioning immune system. Normally, the immune system protects the body by detecting harmful foreign substances called antigens. In response to an attack by antigens, the body creates proteins known as antibodies, which destroy the antigens and help the body build up immunity to further attacks.

When a person has lupus, his or her immune system can't tell the difference between antigens and the normal cells and tissues in the body. Confused, the immune system produces antibodies that attack healthy cells, organs, and tissues, mistaking them for foreign contaminants. These special antibodies, known as auto-antibodies, bond with the cells and tissues they are attacking, forming immune complex molecules. As the auto-antibodies continue to attack the healthy tissues of the body, immune complex molecules build up at the attack sites, causing pain, inflammation, and damage throughout the body.


Discoid lupus is characterized by a rash that appears on the face, neck, or scalp. The rash is typically red and scaly, and may cause discomfort and hair loss around irritated areas. When it appears on the face, it is sometimes called a “butterfly rash” because it resembles the wings of a butterfly. Some patients may have the rash for only a few days at a time, while others may suffer rashes that last for months or even years. This type of the disease also causes mouth and nose ulcers, as well as sensitivity to sunlight. In some cases, it may progress to systematic illness.

The best-known type of the condition is systemic lupus. While the illness can cause the rashes common in the discoid variety, it may also affect the skin, blood, nervous system, kidneys, heart, joints, and lungs. Some individuals with the disease have only one or two organs or tissues affected, while others may have many affected organs, systems, or tissues.

The symptoms of systematic lupus include fever, fatigue, joint pain, and decreased organ function. Usually, this form of the illness includes periods of


as well as periods of activity. Periods of activity are often referred to as flares. Flares may last for days or weeks, and may come and go without any explanation.

Drug-induced lupus is a rare type of the disease caused by the long-term use of certain drugs. Symptoms are similar to those found in discoid and systematic form. Many drugs are linked to this type of the disease, including medications for tuberculosis, high blood pressure, schizophrenia, and Crohn's disease. Only a very small number of people taking these drugs develop this condition and the symptoms generally disappear upon discontinuing the medication.

Neonatal lupus is another rare form of the illness. The condition occurs when women with systematic lupus transfer some of their auto-antibodies to their infant during the birth process. In many cases, this condition is temporary and the symptoms subside within a few months. Rarely, the illness leads to heart defects, skin problems or decreased liver function.


Diagnosing this condition can be quite complex, as there is no definitive test for the disease. Blood tests help identify signs of inflammation and can shows how well organs are functioning. In some cases, organ biopsies may be done to check the kidneys or liver for signs of damage. A complete medical history is often an important diagnostic tool, since it can reveal a family history of the disease or any medications that could be causing the illness.


While there is no cure for the disease, symptoms and flares sometimes respond to treatment. Medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be used to treat fevers, joint pain, and discomfort. In some cases, immune-suppressing medications help slow the production of auto-antibodies, thus relieving symptoms. Corticosteroids are also sometimes prescribed to reduce inflammation in the body. Since many immune-suppressants and steroids have serious side effects, they are usually taken on a short-term basis only.

Lifestyles changes are sometimes recommended for those suffering with the disease. Eating a non-inflammatory diet, getting plenty of rest, and avoiding sunlight exposure may help reduce symptoms. Since lupus can be a frustrating and difficult condition to manage, some people benefit from joining support groups or attending therapy. Talking to other people with the disease, or expressing concerns to a supportive doctor or therapist may help reduce the stress and negative emotions associated with a chronic condition.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By anon953304 — On May 25, 2014

@anon38130 Post 9: I have had lupus since I was about 13 or 14. I was diagnosed because I got ITP; ITP is a system of Lupus.

By anon350194 — On Oct 02, 2013

I am 18 and have had lupus for three years. I found a support group on Facebook called lighthouse for lupus. It's amazing to talk to people who have the same problems.

By anon342088 — On Jul 17, 2013

@anon331200: I am a 49 year old male who was diagnosed with SLE when I was 40. I had some clear symptoms, but it took about a year and a half to diagnose me. I was tested for everything from syphilis to lymphoma. I finally found a Reumatologist who diagnosed the disease and it was a simple blood test. I had been through skin biopsies and lymph node biopsies with no result. Find a doctor who will run the simple blood test.

By anon331200 — On Apr 21, 2013

My 19 month old son has symptoms of Lupus but the doctors we go to, including at Mayo Clinic, refuse to test him because of no known family history. Meanwhile, he has a horrific rash, kidney issues, can't heal when he's sick, etc. I'm so frustrated and cannot find a doctor who will test him. I don't know what to do.

By anon327875 — On Mar 31, 2013

@Post 17: If you cured yourself, maybe you can share it with the people on this blog who have so generously shared their stories?

I was diagnosed six years ago, was off work for a total of 10 months, lost my hair -- twice -- and have severe kidney damage.

I know two things for sure after traveling this road:

1) I will never discount western medication, although I have had a hate-hate relationship with it most of the time and I balance it with nutritional counseling, organic food, removing fast food from my diet and making better food choices.

2) Healing can only be completed by focusing on mind-body-spirit.

The first time I was sick I was in bed for seven months. I focused on food and my belief system only and did well, until I landed back in my bed for another three months. When I added a focus on the spiritual aspect, it transformed my health.

It takes time, it takes faith, it takes patience and it takes the constant belief that you will heal. If you, yourself don't believe it, no one else will either. God bless.

By Anyasmommy — On Mar 18, 2013

I recently took my daughter to the doctor. While we were there, the doctor noticed she had purple spots on her body. He asked me if anyone in the family had lupus. I told him no one had lupus in family that I knew of.

He decided to do a blood test and her ANA test came back positive. I'm a little confused about this whole thing. I'm not really sure what lupus is. My daughter doesn't really have the symptoms of lupus, not from what I have read about lupus online, anyway.

She has a lot of different medical issues. When she was a baby, she was diagnosed with Trisomy 16 (chromosome 16 disorder). In 2011 she had something happen that had everyone thrown off. The doctors said it rarely happens and they couldn't really give me an explanation on why it happened. She had her small intestine collapse (Intussusception).

Now, after reading about Lupus I see it can affect her GI tract, kidneys and other things. I'm wondering if this is why her intestines collapsed. Does anyone know if this might be a sign of Lupus?

We have an appointment with a pediatric rheumatologist in April in Kansas City. I'm very nervous and just don't know what to expect now. If anyone has any information they would like to share with me, I would appreciate it.

By anon323371 — On Mar 05, 2013

I have had lupus for more than a year. Before I got sick, everything was normal, but after I was admitted to the hospital, my life has changed. My boyfriend left me and it is very difficult to come out of this.

By anon303991 — On Nov 17, 2012

@feline's post 34: My sister was diagnosed with lupus while having all negative results on test! Luckily, she found a good doctor. She is hospitalized now, having prednizolone and vazoprostan treatment, so it is possible. My advice is to find a good doctor. She has been told by doctor that although the test results are negative the clinical characteristics are all present. She also has butterfly rash, etc.

Also she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis before. Avoid the sun if you have that. It can turn into lupus easily.

By feline — On May 19, 2011

Does anyone else suffer from all of the symptoms of Lupus and still have negative blood tests?

I have several autoimmune conditions: sjogren's syndrome, hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia - and have all of the symptoms of Lupus SLE, including the mouth ulcers and the butterfly rash.

The doctor just thought 'Lupus' when I asked about the rash and sent me to the rheumatologist. However, the blood tests keep coming back negative, which limits medication to steroid cream and total sunblock for the photosensitivity on my face. Help please!

By anon150373 — On Feb 07, 2011

I've had discoid lupus (first diagnosed by biopsy on face due to rash) for about 10 years. Since just before Xmas I've been having painful joints (elbows, hands, wrists, fingers and knees)My doctor has arranged for me to see somebody who specialises in Rheumatism but reading more about Lupus it could be due to Lupus rather than rheumatism. Am I in for a downward spiral with my health now or do you think it could be possible to have lupus as well as rheumatism.

By anon142706 — On Jan 13, 2011

i just got told i have lupus. the doctor does not know that i just found out yesterday i am pregnant. i am only 16 and the medication that i was given to stall the effects says do not take when pregnant but no one knows yet that I'm pregnant. what am i going to do? help me please.

By anon106715 — On Aug 26, 2010

I'm Bhupinder K., a nutrition trainer in Dehradun, India.

Recently I have handled two Lupus patients having problems with mouth ulcers.

I'm working on immunity only as I'm not a doctor and do not prescribe any medicine, herb or cure disease. It's the power of the body to heal itself when you provide optimum nutrition that is 90 nutrients and 44 amino acids for the body to rebuild itself by releasing stem cells from bone marrow at any age.

Your stem cells will look after you when you need most. It is very simple.

Second is, you are drinking acidic water. If you have any complication check your water intake, maybe its acidic pH level is disturbed. The root cause of all disease in the body is water, and 75 percent composition of our body is water. Water is the most essential element when treating or self healing any disease or body complication.

Drinking less water creates lot of problems.

I recommend breathing exercises, yoga and meditation along with your change in food habits which can eradicate any disease in the body. Maybe it's cancer, aids, heart problems, digestive or respiratory problems, body pains, knee pains, skin problems.

You can heal yourself provided you have a positive attitude towards life.

There is no harm in trying as there are side effects. it's 100 pure food and water only.

By anon106157 — On Aug 24, 2010

I am living in Mozambique and in 2008 after so many diagnoses in Portugal, it was found that I have Lupus. I would like to see a specialist in Lupus so I can get control of the disease. Can anyone advise me? Many thanks.

By anon98340 — On Jul 22, 2010

my great grandma died of lupus, my grandma had lupus, my mother has lupus and two years ago i was diagnosed with having the gene. i get blood tests every year to see if i have it "full blown" in terms of speaking. i was diagnosed with psoriasis two years ago. could that be a factor of lupus and it's in my scalp?

By anon92342 — On Jun 27, 2010

I've had severe SLE for 21 years. Had a renal transplant five years ago. It's all about attitude. Because no matter how healthy you eat, how healthy your lifestyle, Lupus will attack without warning. It's an unpredictable disease and at times, really frustrating and makes you just want to cry and die. You've just got to take your medicine religiously and laugh about it.

By anon87064 — On May 27, 2010

Auto immune diseases can be helped by going on IT treatment.

By anon79517 — On Apr 22, 2010

I'm not advertising here, but I urge every human to educate themselves about Mineral miracle solution, short for MMS. Just read about it. I've used it for diseases what doctors till now say it has no cure. One more thing I advise is that doctors nowadays are only sales people selling drugs. They're losers and drug thugs.

By anon76143 — On Apr 09, 2010

Ive had Lupus since i was 14 and i am now 34. I really believe diet is not a fat or not for me anyway. i have had so many things happened to me, bad things. I've died so many times it is unbelievable but somehow i keep coming back.

One thing that i believe have helped me is not to listen to the doctors. Do what they say and take the medications but never give up keep finding natural ways that will help you. I've tried so many different things and still trying.

My kidneys too also failed and i went on dialysis. my Dr told me within four years i would need a transplant. As i walked out of there i told myself it will never happen and it hasn't. i came off dialysis within three months. My medications are not very much compared to other people who have had less things for me.

I always try not to listen to them when they say there is no cure. They don't know that, just because they haven't found one doesn't mean there isn't one. I don't really trust my doctor anyway. Three of them have already screwed up with me after i told them there was something wrong and because he never had anyone have problems with them he based me with everyone.

God i argued with that guy for so long until he did something about and the result was i was right and he was wrong. You know what is right and wrong about you.

Also be careful of taking Prednisone for a long time as it can cause you to lose your eyesight. I was a flight attendant was who required to have a prefect vision. This was another thing that i had to argue with another doctor about.

With all of the crap i have gone through, even the doctor said to me what ever you are doing keep on doing it and stop listening to their crap.

Your body has the ability to heal itself so trust yourself and do whatever you think is right for you. Be on the safe side and take the drugs, but still look for alternatives.

I still am, even though what I'm doing is working for me. Everyone is different. What works for someone might not work for you, I've tried a lot of things.

By anon75818 — On Apr 07, 2010

Please ask for professional help. You shouldn't live with suffering by living in denial. It's not right to feel hopeless and not cared for. Please start by contacting the Lupus Foundation. How you deal with these tragedies in life is a model for your kids and other loved ones to live by. Don't you want them to have the best chances?

By anon65281 — On Feb 12, 2010

my sister just died yesterday of lupus, too late for us to know. she refused to go to the hospital for any check-ups.

By anon64147 — On Feb 05, 2010

Have been suffering from Lupus for several years.

I have learned to deal with it. Last week I was bitten by a brown recluse spider and had an anaphylactic reaction. Did not realize how close to death I really was! The pain is unbearable. Can anyone help me with a lot of unanswered questions? Residual effects, etc.

By anon62266 — On Jan 25, 2010

I suffered from Lupus last year and managed to cure it with a simple step by step process. I don't suffer any longer and neither should you.

By anon61822 — On Jan 22, 2010

Please, everyone needs to check out colloidal silver, it's cheap, cures tons of stuff. I know people are leery about something that cures so many things, but when you realize what it does is actually gets rid of diseased cells anywhere in the body so things get healthy again. Check it out, and not with the FDA or your doc.

By anon61051 — On Jan 18, 2010

I have lupus and kidney failure. Yes, your diet is important but there is no cure. I'm so sick of people trying to tell me to do this or that or buy this product or reduce my stress, etc etc. If there was something that could be done to cure it, 5 million people in the world would be rid of it by now.

I'm sorry for your worries (above). Lupus is a horrible disease. There have been no FDA approved treatments in 50 years, yet it's more prevalent than MS cystic fibrosis and AIDS combined!

A lot of it depends on how long a person suffered before they were finally diagnosed. I saw 17 doctors before anyone figured out I had it. Many people would have given up but you just know when something is wrong.

I am dying truly at the end with this disease but do not want to tell anyone, especially not my kids. People don't really want to look at you or talk to you though when you're dying. It's easier to deny it.

By shikamaru92 — On Dec 17, 2009

lupus has no known cause. To go into remission one has to take care of oneself by taking their medications and having regular doctor visits and some luck. to stay in remission one has to eat healthy, regular but not over exercise and some luck again. i have lupus and i am close to remission. i just need the luck and to eat better and to get my lazy butt up and do some more exercise.

By anon51788 — On Nov 09, 2009

My sister has lupus and it is her kidneys that are affected. Both kidneys have recently failed and she is now on dialysis. The transplant facility has refused to put her on the transplant list because she has lupus. her only hope is if a family member matches.

By anon51075 — On Nov 03, 2009

What is the difference between systemic lupus erythematosus and neonatal lupus?

By anon44226 — On Sep 06, 2009

It's never lupus.

By anon38130 — On Jul 23, 2009

do you get Lupus when you're older after you have I.T.P as a chid?Say about when you're 10.

By anon31993 — On May 14, 2009

I have a painful rash in the nape of my neck. Its symptoms seem to be that of Lupus. I am diabetic with a fairly well-controlled blood-sugar level. I am concerned that organs may be affected sooner or later. What causes this? Are there any indicated herbs, as I take a mixture of South Africa herbs, which have a positive affect on my sugar levels? Could this be the cause? What is the best treatment?

I tried anti-inflammatory creme but with little relief.

Ghalib Jonker, Cape Town, South Africa

By bells1982 — On Apr 16, 2009

I just found out I *may* have Lupus. I've been having massive swelling in my joints, mainly my hips, lower back and hands. The pain can run from simply annoying to extremely painful. Until my Dr gets the blood work back she has put me on something called prednisone. She told me I'd see a difference in the pain with in a day or so. It's been 2 day's and it's still pretty bad.

My job is in a way physically taxing and I was told I may not be able to do the job I've have for 4 years. I'm only 27 years old and my physical limitations are starting to scare me.

If one has Lupus, how big of a deal is it from day to day? What can doctors do to help stop, or lessen the effects? Can women who have Lupus still have children?

By anon24680 — On Jan 16, 2009

i just found out that i may have lupus. im 15 years old and my grandfather died from it. what does this mean?...

By melwige — On Oct 30, 2008

My daughter has lupus but she refuses to go to a doctor because she has been abused by doctors and nurses, as well as postal workers, clerks, police, firemen, and many others because of something called mobbing and gangstalking and they are all in on it and harassing her and not only her but other members of our family and many friends. Something needs to be done about this.

By anon16191 — On Jul 31, 2008

Just found out my girlfriend has lupus, but she's known she's had it for a long time... All of a sudden she's been sick for a month, having sore back and so forth, fatigue etc.. Goes to the doctor and he tells her she has to go to hospital immediately, in there she finds out her kidneys are cactus, and now she's in for 3 months... She lives overseas away from me currently, and is withholding information from me... I'm very worried as I think she may be dying and doesn't want to tell me :( What would keep you in hospital for 3 months? Complete renal failure? Other things? Understandable she wants to be left alone for now... But since lupus is new to me, i've been reading a lot, and it's scaring me since most people don't present with this bad kidney problems :(

By anon10573 — On Mar 29, 2008

Lupus is greatly affected by ones diet. I have it myself, and I could stop the painful flares using better food choices (plant foods, low fat, low sugar...). Google "Lupus recovery diet" :)

By anon87 — On Mar 14, 2007

Does anyone know what causes Lupus to go into/come out of remission? Can it be lifestyle/stress, or is it controlled by other things?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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