Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at February 29, 2016

Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks itself through the use of its own immune system. The body mistakes its own tissue for something foreign, causing an immune response. Lupus can lead to inflammation, damaged tissue, and a number of unpleasant symptoms.


Definition & Facts

There are two main types of lupus, each named for the condition's area of affect. The two types are discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). DLE is less serious and focuses mostly on exposed skin, while SLE can affect the entire body.

Of the people who suffer from lupus of any sort, 90 percent are women. The condition is also more likely to affect those with Native American, Asian, or African heritage, whom experience the disease up to three times as often as Caucasians. Lupus can present in a variety of intensities, and some people may find it to only be a mere nuisance. Others might find the symptoms far more serious, and the disease can be deadly if left untreated.

Symptoms & Complaints

Because of the broad nature of the condition, lupus has an equally broad range of symptoms. Those who suffer from the disease may find the symptoms go through phases of remission and exacerbation. Some of the symptoms often cited by lupus patients include:

While any one of these symptoms alone does not necessarily point to lupus, several of these presenting simultaneously should be reported to a doctor. Patients suffering from lupus also reported moderate occurrences of abnormal blood clotting, anemia, and general swelling in the extremities and around the eyes. Lupus is often misdiagnosed because of the wide range of potential symptoms that seem to be better matched with other conditions.


The cause of lupus is unknown, but research indicates that it is likely a blend of genetic factors, environmental factors, and hormonal factors. People who have inherited a risk of having the disease often find it can be triggered by certain environmental factors, like sun exposure, some types of medications, smoke from tobacco, and more. Some lupus patients find that other illnesses can trigger an autoimmune response that grows into a lupus attack.

The leading indicator for a patient's probability of developing lupus is family history though the disease itself presents differently with every patient, and is triggered by different stimuli. The triggering factors are typically events that illicit some sort of immune response from the body. Once the immune system activates, it then proceeds to misread the body's own tissue as an invasive entity, leading to an attack.

Diagnosis & Tests

Lupus is commonly known as a disease that is difficult to diagnose, and for good reason. There isn't a way to check for the presence of lupus with a single test, since lupus itself isn't identifiable by a problem in the body. Those who suffer from lupus still have a working immune system, but that system chooses the wrong target.

In order to accurately test for the presence of lupus, doctors must perform several distinct blood tests. They may also use urinalysis to test for the presence of certain proteins and cell structures that indicate a problem with the kidneys, which can indicate the more severe form of lupus: systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

Treatment & Therapy

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for any form of lupus. However, there are medications that can help ease the symptoms to a more manageable level.

  • Corticosteroids - These substances work to dampen the overactive immune response involved with lupus. They are typically prescribed in cases where systemic lupus might damage internal organs, since they help prevent permanent damage.
  • NSAID's - These anti-inflammatory medications help with joint swelling, and they can be purchased over the counter. Ibuprofen and naproxen are the two most common NSAIDS, and they also help combat mild fevers associated with lupus.
  • Immune Suppressors - The immune system can be further inhibited with the use of immunosuppressive drugs. They are usually used together with corticosteroids, especially if one isn't sufficient in combating the serious damage that might be done to vital organs.
  • Anticoagulants - Blood clots can be one of the most life-threatening symptoms of lupus, so anticoagulants are often used to keep the patient's blood thin enough to prevent any clotting in the first place.

Healthy diet, regular exercise, and rest are all essential to combating the symptoms.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Due to the genetic nature of the condition, preventing lupus outright isn't a viable option. However, there are many things that can be done to prevent the symptoms from becoming too severe. Those patients who know they have an inherited disposition toward the disease, but have never seen any indication that the disease is present, should avoid the classic triggers.

Patients who maintain a proper healthy lifestyle can expect milder symptoms, and when combined with the proper preventative medications, lupus can be managed.

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