Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus) is a disease that causes your body’s immune system to attack its own cells and tissues. It causes episodes of inflammation to various parts of the body. It can affect your joints, tendons, and skin. It can affect blood vessels. And it can affect organs such as the kidneys, heart, lungs, and brain. It can cause rashes, fatigue, pain, and fever. The heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain are the organs most affected. Severe lupus can cause harm to organs and other serious problems.
Lupus is a long-term (chronic) disease. It affects each person differently. The effects of the illness range from mild to severe. Symptoms of lupus may come and go. These are sometimes known as flare-ups, periods of remission, and relapse. Lupus has no cure, but medicines can help symptoms. And you can help manage lupus by living a healthy lifestyle and working with your healthcare provider. In children, lupus often attacks the kidneys. This can lead to kidney damage and kidney failure. In some cases, lupus can be fatal.
Your body protects itself with the immune system. The immune system makes proteins called antibodies. These protect against bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. In some people, the immune system makes antibodies that attack the body’s own cells. This leads to inflammation and tissue damage in the body.
Experts think lupus may be caused by a mix of genes and other factors. The other factors may include being exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which causes mononucleosis. Other factors such as sunlight, stress, or hormones may be part of the cause of lupus.
Lupus occurs most often in young women in their late teens and adult women younger than age 45. The female hormone estrogen is linked with lupus. Lupus also affects more African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians than whites. Lupus in children occurs most often in ages 15 and older.
Lupus symptoms can appear in many parts of the body. Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each person. They may come and go. Some of the common symptoms of lupus are:
The symptoms of lupus can look like other health problems. Make sure to see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Lupus is hard to diagnose. This is because it has many possible symptoms that could have other causes. And the symptoms can develop slowly over time.
To diagnose lupus, your healthcare provider will ask about your health history and your symptoms. Your healthcare provider may suspect you have lupus if you have 4 or more symptoms and no specific cause. You may have tests to help confirm the diagnosis. You may have blood tests such as:
You may also have other tests such as:
There is no cure for lupus, but treatment can help manage it. You may work with a rheumatologist. This is a doctor who specializes in lupus, arthritis, and other related diseases. You may also work with other kinds of doctors. These include specialists in kidney disease, blood disorders, immune disorders, and heart problems. You may also meet with a social worker to help you manage your treatment plan. The goals of treatment include treating symptoms, preventing flare-ups of lupus, and helping reduce damage to the body.
Your healthcare provider may give you medicine to help treat symptoms. Medicines can’t cure lupus, but they can help prevent organ damage or suppress the disease. Your healthcare provider will prescribe one or more medicines to help you feel better. Be sure to take them as directed. You may be given medicines such as:
Talk with your healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines.
Lupus can also be managed by keeping a healthy lifestyle. Here are ways to take care of yourself:
Work with your healthcare provider to manage your lupus. Get regular checkups and tests.
Children with lupus should not get vaccines with live viruses. This includes chickenpox, measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), and oral polio vaccines. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider about all vaccines.
Lupus can range from a mild disease to a life-threatening disease that damages organs. It may affect your ability to work. Possible complications can include:
If you are a woman of childbearing age, talk with your healthcare provider about the risks of pregnancy and lupus. Lupus symptoms can flare up during pregnancy. Pregnancy with lupus is high risk, so you will need extra care from your healthcare team. You may need to see your healthcare provider more often.
Lupus can be a life-changing diagnosis. Lupus symptoms often come and go over time. It is important to know the warning signs that a relapse or flare-up is going to happen. Each person may have different warning signs. They may include fatigue, pain, rash, or fever. Knowing your warning signs can help you work with your healthcare provider to adjust your medicine. It is also important to get 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night, stay current on your vaccines, and keep a healthy lifestyle.
If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, let your healthcare provider know.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Article Last Updated: August 21, 2018
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