Definition

Lupus is an autoimmune disease. It inflames:

  • Joints
  • Tendons
  • Skin
  • Other connective tissue and organs

It causes the immune system to make antibodies that attack the body's healthy cells and tissue.

Causes

The cause of lupus is unknown. Researchers believe it may be a combination of:

Risk Factors

These risk factors increase your chance of developing lupus. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:

  • Sex: female to male ratio: 10:1
  • Age: childbearing age (20-45 years)
  • Race: African American, Native American, Asian, and Hispanic

Symptoms

Symptoms can be mild or very severe. For some people, only part of the body (eg, skin) is affected. For others, many parts are affected. Though symptoms can be chronic, they can flare up and get better on and off.

Common symptoms:

  • Swollen and/or painful joints
  • Fever
  • Skin rashes over areas exposed to sunlight (especially on the nose and cheeks)
  • Extreme fatigue

Common Lupus Rash Sites

Lupus rash
Facial butterfly rash is hallmark of Lupus.
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Other symptoms may include:

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical and family history, and perform a physical exam. The diagnosis is based on symptoms, especially for young women. No single test can determine if you have lupus. But, a number of blood tests for specific antibodies can confirm diagnosis.

Treatment

Treatment depends on symptoms.

Medication

Medicines for mild symptoms:

  • Aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—to relieve joint pain
  • Acetaminophen (eg, Tylenol)—to relieve joint pain
  • Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine—to relieve joint pain, fatigue, balding, and skin rashes
    • Note: Regular eye exams are advised while on these medicines.
  • Topical corticosteroids—to treat skin rashes
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)—a hormone medicine that has minimal benefit

Medicines for severe symptoms include:

  • Oral and intravenous corticosteroids to control and limit inflammation in kidney, brain, lung, and heart, as well as in cases of severe anemia
  • Immunosuppressive drugs to suppress the body's autoimmune system
  • Mycophenolate, azathioprine, and cyclophosphamide for kidney disease or other life- or organ-threatening conditions
  • Rituximab for refractory disease

Transplantation and Dialysis

You may consider transplantation and dialysis if you have end-stage kidney failure .

Prevention

You cannot prevent lupus because the cause is unknown.

To prevent flare-ups of symptoms: