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What is Neuropsychiatric Lupus?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Neuropsychiatric lupus is a blanket term used to describe the neurological and psychiatric symptoms which emerge in 10 to 30% of patients diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus, the most serious form of lupus. Many people refer to systemic lupus erythematosus as simply “lupus,” since it is the most common form of this autoimmune disorder, in addition to being the most serious. Treatment for neuropsychiatric lupus focuses on addressing the underlying lupus and the neuropsychiatric symptoms with the goal of keeping the patient as comfortable as possible.

Like other autoimmune disorders, lupus is characterized by a profound malfunction of the immune system. In patients with lupus, the immune system gets confused and starts attacking itself, causing inflammation, internal legions, damage to the internal organs, and a variety of other symptoms. Historically, lupus was always fatal, but modern medical treatments have made management of lupus much easier, greatly reducing the fatality rate. Survival rates of up to 20 years with lupus are not uncommon in regions where people have access to high quality medical care.

In some patients, in addition to the expected lupus symptoms, neuropsychiatric symptoms emerge. The two most common hallmarks of neuropsychiatric lupus are frequent severe headaches and a radical decline in motor function. Many people with this condition also experience gait problems, having difficulty walking and balancing. Depression, strokes, psychosis, dementia, delirium, cognitive dysfunction, movement disorders, and impaired memory are also associated with neuropsychiatric lupus.

You may also hear neuropsychiatric lupus referred to as neuropsychiatric systemic lupus erythematosus (NPSLE). The precise causes of neuropsychiatric symptoms are not really understood. Some doctors theorize that the condition is related to inflammation and lesions in the brain, which would explain many of the symptoms, although patients with NPSLE do not always exhibit a marked increase in inflammation and lesions. Damage to the internal organs may also be a contributor to the development of neuropsychiatric lupus.

Usually, neuropsychiatric symptoms emerge after someone has already been diagnosed with lupus. This helps doctors narrow down the cause of the symptoms, as a wide variety of conditions can cause similar physical and cognitive symptoms. Various medications may be used to address the symptoms, and the lupus treatment may also be adjusted to accommodate the neuropsychiatric lupus. Patients with severe cases may be obliged to arrange for in-home care or a stay in a residential facility, as they can become a danger to themselves or others, especially as the impairment progresses.

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.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By GammyJean — On Jun 21, 2016

I developed SLE when I was31. I am now 61 and have survived by staying out of the sun and avoiding crowds to minimize the respiratory infections I am prone to resulting from the immune suppressing medications that are the only common treatments given for SLE. I had one period of 2-3 yeas where the Lupus was in a complete remission, but that remission ended with a horse related accident in 2001. My only recommendation is to eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, exercise sensibly, and generally follow good basic health guidelines to avoid secondary infections. And good luck to you all.

By Bhutan — On Jun 08, 2011

@SurNTurf - Wow, that is really hard to deal with because I would imagine that it must be hard to sleep when you have lupus because this disease leaves you with constant pain.

I read that many people with lupus also lose some of their hair and develop dizziness and seizures. They can also develop a rash across the face as well as develop heart and kidney problems. I also read that people with this condition have a high chance of developing anemia.

The good thing is that there are making advances in medicine every day and there are a number of experimental medications that they are working with to lessen some of these symptoms.

By surfNturf — On Jun 06, 2011

I just wanted to say that my father in law’s wife has lupus and fibromyalgia and I think that both conditions are related to each other.

She does have a lot of muscular pain and has limited mobility because of the intense pain that she also feels in her joints. It is really a difficult set of conditions because on top of the pain, my father in law’s wife also feels very tired all of the time.

She also has bruises throughout her skin due to the lupus. It is really sad, but she said that she is going to go to a local support group at her local hospital because the lupus and the fibromyalgia have made her really depressed.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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