Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease that occurs when your body's immune system attacks your own tissues and organs. Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different body systems â including your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs.
Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because its signs and symptoms often mimic those of other ailments. The most distinctive sign of lupus â a facial rash that resembles the wings of a butterfly unfolding across both cheeks â occurs in many but not all cases of lupus.
Some people are born with a tendency toward developing lupus, which may be triggered by infections, certain drugs or even sunlight. While there's no cure for lupus, treatments can help control symptoms.
No two cases of lupus are exactly alike. Signs and symptoms may come on suddenly or develop slowly, may be mild or severe, and may be temporary or permanent. Most people with lupus have mild disease characterized by episodes â called flares â when signs and symptoms get worse for a while, then improve or even disappear completely for a time.
The signs and symptoms of lupus that you experience will depend on which body systems are affected by the disease. The most common signs and symptoms include:
See your doctor if you develop an unexplained rash, ongoing fever, persistent aching or fatigue.
Lupus occurs when your immune system attacks healthy tissue in your body (autoimmune disease). It's likely that lupus results from a combination of your genetics and your environment.
It appears that people with an inherited predisposition for lupus may develop the disease when they come into contact with something in the environment that can trigger lupus. The cause of lupus in most cases, however, is unknown. Some potential triggers include:
Diagnosing lupus is difficult because signs and symptoms vary considerably from person to person. Signs and symptoms of lupus may vary over time and overlap with those of many other disorders.
No one test can diagnose lupus. The combination of blood and urine tests, signs and symptoms, and physical examination findings leads to the diagnosis.
Blood and urine tests may include:
If your doctor suspects that lupus is affecting your lungs or heart, he or she may suggest:
Lupus can harm your kidneys in many different ways, and treatments can vary, depending on the type of damage that occurs. In some cases, it's necessary to test a small sample of kidney tissue to determine what the best treatment might be. The sample can be obtained with a needle or through a small incision.
Skin biopsy is sometimes performed to confirm a diagnosis of lupus affecting the skin.
Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many areas of your body, including your:
Having lupus also increases your risk of:
Sometimes people with lupus seek alternative or complementary medicine. However, there aren't any alternative therapies that have been shown to alter the course of lupus, although some may help ease symptoms of the disease.
Discuss these treatments with your doctor before initiating them on your own. He or she can help you weigh the benefits and risks and tell you if the treatments will interfere adversely with your current lupus medications.
Complementary and alternative treatments for lupus include:
Take steps to care for your body if you have lupus. Simple measures can help you prevent lupus flares and, should they occur, better cope with the signs and symptoms you experience. Try to:
If you have lupus, you're likely to have a range of painful feelings about your condition, from fear to extreme frustration. The challenges of living with lupus increase your risk of depression and related mental health problems, such as anxiety, stress and low self-esteem. To help you cope with lupus, try to:
Learn all you can about lupus. Write down any questions you have about lupus as they occur to you so that you can ask them at your next appointment. Ask your doctor or nurse for reputable sources of further information. The more you know about lupus, the more confident you'll feel in your treatment choices.
Gather support among your friends and family. Talk about lupus with your friends and family and explain ways they can help out when you're having flares. Lupus can be frustrating for your loved ones because they usually can't see it, and you may not appear sick.
Family and friends can't tell if you're having a good day or a bad day unless you tell them. Be open about what you're feeling so that your loved ones know what to expect.
Take time for yourself. Cope with stress in your life by taking time for yourself. Use that time to read, meditate, listen to music or write in a journal. Find activities that calm and renew you.
Connect with others who have lupus. Talk to other people who have lupus. You can connect with other people who have lupus through support groups in your community or through online message boards. Other people with lupus can offer unique support because they're facing many of the same obstacles and frustrations that you're facing.
Factors that may increase your risk of lupus include: