Lupus: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment


Author: Disabled World
Updated/Revised Date: 2022/04/10
Contents: Summary - Introduction - Main - Subtopics - Publications

Synopsis: Information, causes, and treatments for Lupus, an autoimmune disease affecting parts of the human body including the skin. Lupus does not only affect women, there are numerous men who are affected by Lupus. People of either sex, at any age, can be impacted by Lupus, but it does occur ten to fifteen times more often in adult women than men after puberty. An estimate by the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA) suggests that there are between 1.5 and 2 million Americans who are living with a form of Lupus; the number may be higher in actuality.


An Introduction to Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disease. Lupus can affect different parts of the body; to include the heart, lungs, brain, kidneys, skin, and joints such as elbows, knees, or hips. In a person unaffected by Lupus, the immune system produces proteins called, 'antibodies,' to protect the body from bacteria, antigens, and viruses.

Main Document

Systemic lupus erythematosus, often abbreviated as SLE or lupus, is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when your body's immune system attacks your tissues and organs. There are many kinds of lupus. The most common type is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which affects many internal organs in the body. SLE most typically harms the heart, joints, skin, lungs, blood vessels, liver, kidneys, and nervous system. Childhood systemic lupus erythematosus generally presents between the ages of 3 and 15, with girls outnumbering boys 4:1, and typical skin manifestations being butterfly eruption on the face and photosensitivity.

For a person who has Lupus, the immune system cannot differentiate between antigens and the tissues and cells in the body. Their immune system creates antibodies that fight against it called, 'autoantibodies,' and they cause pain, inflammation, and damage different parts of the body.

The main feature of Lupus is inflammation, and it is characterized by redness, heat, swelling, loss of function and pain outside or inside the body or both. Many people experience Lupus as a mild disease that affects a few organs only; yet others who have Lupus have serious or life-threatening issues. Data regarding Lupus is somewhat limited, but studies on it suggest that there are more than sixteen thousand Americans who develop Lupus every year.

An estimate by the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA) suggests that there are between 1.5 and 2 million Americans who are living with a form of Lupus; the number may be higher in actuality. Ninety-percent or more of the people living with Lupus are women, and of these women, the ones experiencing the symptoms and being diagnosed with it are of child-bearing age; between 15 and 45 years old. In America, African Americans, Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans are more likely to have Lupus than Caucasians.

Symptoms of Lupus

Although most people with Lupus experience symptoms in a few organs only, Lupus can affect any part of the body. Ninety-five percent of people with Lupus experience achy joints, or, 'Arthralgia.' Ninety-percent experience fevers of more than one-hundred degrees, and arthritis or swollen joints. Eighty-one percent experience long-term or extreme fatigue. Skin rashes are something that seventy-four percent of people with Lupus encounter, and seventy-one percent experience anemia.

Other symptoms experiences by persons with Lupus include Kidney issues (50%), Chest pain (45%), butterfly-shaped rashes on the nose or cheeks (42%), sun/light sensitivity (30%), hair loss (27%), blood clotting issues (20%), Raynaud's Phenomenon - fingers turning white or blue in the cold (17%), seizures (15%), and mouth or nose Ulcers (12%). If you experience several of these symptoms, you should contact your doctor.

Potential Causes of Lupus

Medical science does not know what causes Lupus at this time. There are; however, some different genetic and environmental factors involved. Extreme stress, ultraviolet light, some specific drugs, hormones, and antibiotics; particularly antibiotics from the penicillin and sulfa groups, are all environmental factors that may lead to Lupus.

Many members of the scientific community believe that there is a genetic predisposition for some people to Lupus that occurs in families. A particular gene or genes associated with Lupus have not been identified, except for a certain gene on chromosome one that is associated with Lupus and some families. There were some genes on chromosome 6 that were previously associated with Lupus; they are called, 'immune response genes.' Of all the people who have Lupus, only ten percent have a parent or sibling that may develop it, or already has it. Around five percent of the children born to people who have Lupus go on to get Lupus themselves.

Lupus does not only affect women, contrary to what many people believe; there are numerous men who are affected by Lupus. People of either sex, at any age, can be impacted by Lupus, but it does occur ten to fifteen times more often in adult women than men after puberty. Hormones may explain why women get Lupus more than men. There is an increase in the symptoms of Lupus before menstrual periods or during pregnancy, and this supports the idea that hormones such as estrogen and others might influence the progression of Lupus. There is still no understanding of the exact reasons behind the greater rate of Lupus in women than men.

The Lupus Diagnosis

Lupus symptoms can mimic several other illnesses, they are transient at times or vague, and this can make Lupus hard to diagnose. Laboratory testing, review of the person's complete medical history, along with specialized testing concerning the person's immune status, can help to reach a decision of whether Lupus is the correct diagnosis. In the medical field today, there is no one single laboratory test that can tell whether a person has Lupus or not.

The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) has issued a list of eleven symptoms or signs that can help to differentiate Lupus from other diseases. If a person has four or more of them, even if they do not occur at the same time, Lupus is something that should be investigated further with a doctor. These eleven symptoms and signs are as follows:

Symptoms and Signs of Lupus

Lupus and Treatment

Treatment can effectively minimize the symptoms and inflammation associated with Lupus for most people, as well as helping to maintain their bodily functions. There are some preventative measures that people with Lupus can take to reduce the risk of the symptoms of Lupus. People with Lupus who are photosensitive can avoid exposure to the sun or use sunscreen in an effort to avoid rashes. Muscle fatigue and weakness can be prevented to a degree through regular exercise. To avoid some specific infections, persons with Lupus can get immunized against them.

Stress can become an issue for many people with Lupus, and to deal with stress they can reach to support groups, family members, friends, counseling, and physicians for support. In an effort to maintain as high a level of health as possible, it is wise for persons with Lupus to discontinue negative habits such as smoking, excessive drinking of alcoholic beverages, postponing medical checkups, or taking too little or too much of prescription medications.

Every person with Lupus is an individual, and treatment approaches for Lupus are equally individualized. The characteristics of Lupus vary significantly between individuals with Lupus, so it is important to receive a complete, thorough, and ongoing medical supervision of the condition to ensure both proper diagnosis and treatment.

Depending on which organs are involved, different medications may be prescribed according to the severity of the symptoms. An effective patient-physician relationship and discussions about the kinds of medications used and potential side effects, as well as the need for any changes in the dosage of medications, is essential. There are several Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAID's) that are commonly used to aid with symptoms of Lupus.

Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAID's) and Lupus

Some of the more common NSAID's used to help with Lupus symptoms include Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Indomethacin, Naproxen, Tolmetin, Nabumetone, and several others. These medications are also used for arthritis, muscle, and joint pain. One of the issues with these medications is that they may cause stomach upset, although this side effect can sometimes be prevented through taking them with milk, antacids, meals, or prostaglandins like misoprostil, also known as, 'Cytotec.' Some of the newer NSAID's have a prostaglandin in the same capsule as the NSAID; one brand is, 'Arthrotec.'

Many NSAIDs perform in much the same way as Aspirin but are stronger, requiring people to take fewer capsules or pills each day to receive the same benefits as they would from more Aspirin. A number of NSAID's are available over the counter in stores, and people with Lupus should be careful not to take more Aspirin or NSAID's than recommended because overuse of them can slow down blood flow to the kidneys, causing problems.

Additional Treatments for Lupus


Acetaminophen is an analgesic used for pain that can cause less stomach pain than Aspirin or NSAID's. It does not have the inflammatory suppressing abilities of Aspirin, unfortunately.


Corticosteroids are hormones that have both immuno-regulatory and anti-inflammatory properties; they are usually created in minor quantities in the human adrenal gland and control various metabolic functions. Synthetic Corticosteroids help to reduce immune system activity and inflammation; the most commonly prescribed one is Prednisone. Steroids can have various side effects and the dose has to be regulated to achieve the desired anti-inflammatory and anti-immune effects desired while keeping any undesirable side effects at a minimum. People who take steroids at high doses over a long period of time are most likely to experience negative side effects. Some undesired side effects include acne, a round face, weight gain, stomach ulcers, bruising easily, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, diabetes, cataracts, hyperactivity, increased appetite and an increased risk of infection.


Hydroxychloroquine or Chloroquine, typically used to treat malaria, can be used to treat some people who have Lupus as well; mostly people with Lupus who have joint and skin symptoms. Unfortunately, it can take months before the benefits of taking these medications are proven. On a rare occasion, a person taking these medications may experience rashes or diarrhea. Other Anti-malarial medications like Quinine may affect a person's eyes, so if they are used, it is important to see an ophthalmologist regularly. The manufacturer of these medications has suggested that people who are about to start taking these medications should visit an ophthalmologist before taking them, and then have an eye exam every six months afterward.

Immuno-modulating Drugs:

Immuno-modulating Drugs include Azathioprine and Cyclophosphamide, and are part of a group of medications referred to as, 'Cytotoxic,' or, 'Immunosuppressive,' medications. They are somewhat like Corticosteroid medications because they reduce inflammation and the immune system; they also have side effects. Some side effects of these medications include an increased risk of infection, anemia, and the potential for a low white blood cell count. Using these medications may also predispose a person to cancer at a later point in life.

Methotrexate and Cyclosporine:

Methotrexate and Cyclosporine are immuno-modulating medications that are under an investigational phase in the treatment of Lupus and are used along with Aphaeresis, which is a blood-filtering treatment. Used by itself, Aphaeresis has shown results that have not been promising. Like other medications, Methotrexate and Cyclosporine also have side effects. There are other things referred to as, 'agents,' that are being used that are directed towards specific cells in the immune system in the fight against Lupus. Some of these agents block the production of certain antibodies; others suppress the creation of antibodies through additional means. An example of this includes immunoglobulin shots that are given regularly to increase a person's platelet count; something that is important to the process of coagulation.


Anticoagulants are used to help thin blood and prevent it from clotting too fast. Aspirin, taken at a low dose, prevents platelets from clotting, as does Heparin or Coumadin. Coumadin is a medication that needs to be watched closely to make sure that the person taking it stays within a therapeutic range, and to make sure that their blood is not too thin. Usually, therapy of this kind is a life-long form for people with Lupus. This form of therapy commonly is started after an incident where the blood has clotted; called, 'Thromboses,' or, 'Embolus.'

The ability to recognize early symptoms of disease activity is something that persons with Lupus should learn to do because they can assist their doctor when a change in their therapy is needed. Laboratory testing in the process of regularly monitoring Lupus is very valuable because symptoms might only happen after a noticeable flare, and lab tests can show if the disease is changing to a more active state before the person developing symptoms. The sooner a flare is detected, the sooner it can be controlled, and early treatment can decrease risks of permanent organ or tissue damage. Early treatment can also reduce the amount of time a person needs to stay on a larger dose of medications.

Lupus Facts and Statistics

Lupus is Latin for wolf:

In the 18th century, when lupus was just starting to be recognized as a disease, it was thought that it was caused by a wolf's bite. This may have been because of the distinctive rash characteristic of lupus. (Once full-blown, the round, disk-shaped rashes heal from the inside out, leaving a bite-like imprint.)

The first mechanism may arise genetically:

Research indicates SLE may have a genetic link. SLE does run in families, but no single causal gene has been identified. Instead, multiple genes appear to influence a person's chance of developing lupus when triggered by environmental factors.


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