Lupus Facts

What is Lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system becomes overactive and produces antibodies that attack healthy tissue in the body, producing inflammation, redness, pain, and swelling. This tendency for the immune system to become overactive may run in families. Lupus is a serious health problem that affects mainly young women. In some people, lupus becomes active after exposure to sunlight, infections, or certain medications. It can affect men; however 9 out of 10 people who have lupus are women. Lupus is also three times more common in black women than in white women. The disease often starts between the ages of 15 and 44.

Are there different kinds of Lupus?

There are three different forms of lupus:

  • systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the most serious form, may affect many parts of the body including joints, skin, kidney, lungs, heart and brain.
  • discoid or cutaneous lupus mainly affects the skin.
  • drug-induced lupus is caused by some prescription medicines. It resembles SLE, but is less serious.

What are the signs of Lupus?

The signs of lupus vary and may have periods of exacerbation and remission. Some people have just a few signs of the disease; others have more. Many people with lupus look healthy. Lupus may be hard to diagnose and is often mistaken for other diseases. For this reason, lupus has often been called the "great imitator." Common signs of lupus include red rash or color change on the face, often in the shape of a butterfly across the bridge of the nose and the cheeks; painful or swollen joints; unexplained fever; chest pain with breathing; unusual loss of hair; pale or purple fingers or toes from cold or stress; sensitivity to the sun; and low blood count. These signs are more important when the occur together. Other signs of lupus can include mouth sores, unexplained fits or convulsions, hallucinations or depression, repeated miscarriages, and unexplained kidney problems.

Does sunlight cause Lupus?

Signs and symptoms of lupus may be triggered by exposure to sunlight.

Why is Lupus more common in black women than in white women?

We do not know why the disease is more common in black women. However, researchers supported by the NIH are studying why minorities are more inclined to get lupus, what causes it to start, and why it is mild in some and severe in others. Other researchers are studying why the signs of lupus differ between black women and white women.

How is Lupus treated?

Because the signs of lupus often differ from one person to another, treatment, too, may vary. There is no known cure today for lupus. However, in many cases, symptoms of the disease can be relieved. The doctor may recommend aspirin or similar medication to treat the painful, swollen joints and the fever. Creams may be prescribed for the rash, and stronger medicines prescribed for more serious problems. The good news is that with the correct medicine and by taking care of themselves, most lupus patients can hold jobs, have children, and lead full lives.


Source: National Women's Health Information Center, The Office on Women's Health