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A Guide to Lupus (SLE)

Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus) is a cruel, unpredictable and devastating autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body, including skin, joints and internal organs.

This rheumatic disease strikes mostly young women—ages 15-44, though men and children can develop lupus, too. While people of all races and ethnic groups can develop lupus, women of African and Asian descent are 2-3 times more likely to develop the disease. Black women tend to develop lupus at a younger age and have more severe symptoms than white women.

Lupus often leads to skin rashes, and swollen and painful joints, but internal organs may also be affected.

Common Symptoms

  • Joint pain and stiffness, sometimes with swelling
  • Muscle pain or achiness
  • Fever from unknown cause
  • Fatigue
  • Skin rashes — a “butterfly” rash over the cheeks and bridge of the nose, or a widespread rash
  • Anemia
  • Confusion, memory problems, trouble thinking
  • Kidney problems from unknown cause
  • Chest pains upon deep breaths
  • Sensitivity to light or the sun
  • Hair loss

Less common symptoms include:

  • Blood clots
  • Pale or purplish fingers/toes due to cold or stress (Raynaud’s phenomenon)
  • Seizures
  • Sores in the mouth or nose (typically not painful)
  • Severe headache
  • Dizzy spells
  • Reduced ability to judge reality or “seeing things”
  • General sense of sadness
  • Strokes

Some patients only have skin symptoms. This is called discoid lupus.

Lupus tends to flare and retreat: That is, the symptoms get worse and you feel awful, then the symptoms subside and you feel better.  Lupus can range from mild to life-threatening.  It is important for lupus to be treated by a doctor. By staying on top of medications and keeping up with doctor appointments, those with lupus can lead a full life and can have normal life expectancy.

Genetic Links?

While no genetic cause has been definitively identified, a variety of findings strongly suggest a link between genes and lupus. Although lupus can develop in people with no family history of the disease, it is likely that other family members have an autoimmune disease, just a different one of the 80+ that are out there.

While a person’s genes may increase the chance that he or she will develop lupus, it is usually an environmental trigger that onsets the illness or brings on a flare. Lupus Foundation of America has a good list of examples, ranging from medication to stress.

Lupus symptoms can be treated with a variety of drugs, including anti-inflammatoires, corticosteroids, antimalarials, immunosuppressives, and anticoagulants. Many lupus patients also seek relief from complementary or alternative treatments such as homeopathy, acupuncture and biofeedback.

Lupus is not contagious; you can’t “catch” it from someone. Recent research estimates that at least 1.5 million Americans have lupus, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.

Read more about lupus:
When do autoimmune symptoms add up to lupus?
Pregnancy, post-partum and lupus
Pregnancy complications and lupus
A life interrupted by lupus

References and Further Reading

Lupus Foundation of America
Mayo Clinic – Lupus: Coping & Support
Could I Have Lupus?
Alliance for Lupus Research


About the Author
Gretchen Heber is an autoimmune mom and entrepreneur with more than 15 years of experience in online media. She has also worked with several daily newspapers across the United States, serving as a graphic designer, writer and editor.

This blog post was originally published by, written by Gretchen Heber , and first published on May 29, 2013.

This post contains the opinions of the author. Autoimmune Association is not a medical practice and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is your responsibility to seek diagnosis, treatment, and advice from qualified providers based on your condition and particular circumstances. Autoimmune Association does not endorse nor recommend any products, practices, treatment methods, tests, physicians, service providers, procedures, clinical trials, opinions or information available on this website. Your use of the website is subject to our Privacy Policy.

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