What is Lupus?

Lupus is a complicated disease. Knowing the facts about lupus is important. The Lupus Society of Illinois provides reliable information on lupus.

Facts About Lupus

  • Lupus can affect many body parts, including the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels, or brain.
  • You will have periods of illness (flares) and wellness.
  • Anyone can get lupus, but it most often affects women. Lupus is also more common among African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American women.
  • Genes play an important role in lupus, but other factors are also involved.
  • Learning to recognize the warning signs of a flare can help with reducing or preventing the flares.
  • ​Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus) is a disease that can damage many parts of the body, such as the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels, and brain. You can’t catch lupus from another person.
  • If you have lupus you will have periods of illness (flares) and periods of wellness (remission).

What Happens in Lupus?

Lupus occurs when the immune system, which normally helps protect the body from infection and disease, attacks different parts of the body.Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus) happens when the body’s defense system attacks healthy cells and tissues, instead of viruses and bacteria. This can damage many parts of the body such as the:






Blood Vessels


You can’t catch lupus from another person. If you have lupus you will have periods of illness (flares) and wellness.​

Who Gets Lupus?

We know that many more women than men have systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus). Lupus is more common in African American women than in Caucasian women and is also more common in women of Hispanic, Asian, and Native American descent. African American and Hispanic women are also more likely to have active disease and serious organ system involvement. In addition, lupus can run in families, but the risk that a child or a brother or sister of a patient will also have lupus is still quite low.

Although SLE usually first affects people between the ages of 15 and 45 years, it can occur in childhood or later in life as well.

What Causes Lupus?

​No one completely understands what causes systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus). Studies suggest that a number of different genes may determine your risk for developing the disease.

Some environmental factors also appear to play a role in lupus. In particular, scientists are studying the effects of sunlight, stress, hormones, cigarette smoke, certain drugs, and viruses.  Most people will see a rheumatologist for their lupus treatment. Treatment generally consists of a team approach.

Lupus Symptoms

​​Some of the most common symptoms of lupus include:

  • Painful or swollen joints (arthritis).
  • Unexplained fever.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Red rashes, most often on the face.
  • Chest pain upon deep breathing.
  • Hair loss.
  • Sensitivity to the sun.
  • Mouth sores.
  • Pale or purple fingers and toes from cold and stress.
  • Swollen glands.
  • Swelling in the legs or around the eyes.

Other symptoms could include:

  • ​​Anemia (a decrease in red blood cells).
  • Kidney inflammation, which typically requires drug treatment to prevent permanent damage.
  • Headaches, dizziness, depression, confusion, or seizures if the disease affects the central nervous system.
  • Inflammation of the blood vessels.
  • Decreased number of white blood cells or platelets.
  • Increased risk of blood clots.
  • Inflammation of the heart or the lining that surrounds it.
  • Heart valve damage.​

Diagnosing Lupus

​Diagnosing systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus) can be difficult and may take months or even years. Although there is no single test for lupus, your doctor may do the following to diagnosis you with the condition:

  • Ask you about your medical history
  • Give you a physical exam
  • Take samples of blood, skin, kidney, or urine for laboratory Tests. The most useful tests look for certain antibodies in the blood.
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