Want to know about lupus, and what you can do about it?

We asked the National Institutes of Health for answers to basic questions.

We know: All About Lupus

What is lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks healthy tissues, not germs. Lupus can affect many parts of the body, but one person usually doesn't have all the possible symptoms.

Lupus is NOT a form of cancer, and it is NOT related to AIDS, and it is not contagious.

What are the types of lupus?

There are three main kinds:

  1. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common form and can involve many parts of the body such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain. SLE symptoms can be mild or serious.
  2. Discoid lupus erythematosus mainly affects the skin. A red rash may appear, or the skin on the face, scalp, or elsewhere may change color.
  3. Drug-induced lupus is triggered by a some medications, such as hydralazine and procainamide, used for heart conditions. It's like systemic lupus, but the symptoms are usually milder. Typically, the disease goes away when the medicine is stopped.

What are the signs and symptoms of lupus?

Lupus may be hard to diagnose and the signs differ from person to person. Some people have just a few signs; others have more. Symptoms include:

  • Red rash or color change on the face, often in the shape of a butterfly across the nose and cheeks
  • Painful or swollen joints
  • Unexplained fever
  • Chest pain with deep breathing
  • Swollen glands
  • Extreme fatigue (feeling tired all the time)
  • Unusual hair loss (mainly on the scalp)
  • Pale or purple fingers or toes from cold or stress
  • Sensitivity to the sun
  • Low blood count
  • Depression, trouble thinking, and/or memory problems

Other signs are mouth sores, unexplained convulsions, hallucinations, repeated miscarriages, and unexplained kidney problems.

What causes lupus?

The cause is not known. There is no cure, but in most cases lupus can be managed. Lupus sometimes seems to run in families, which suggests the disease may be hereditary.

Who gets lupus?

Anyone can get lupus. But 9 out of 10 people who have it are women. African American women are three times more likely to get lupus than white women. It's also more common in Hispanic/Latino, Asian, and American Indian women.

How is lupus diagnosed?

No single test can show that you have lupus. Your doctor may have to run several tests and study your medical history. It may take time for the doctor to diagnose lupus.

What is the treatment?

Treatment depends on the symptoms. The doctor may give you aspirin or a similar medicine to treat swollen joints and fever. Creams may be prescribed for a rash. For more serious problems, stronger medicines such as antimalaria drugs, corticosteroids, and chemotherapy drugs are used. Your doctor will choose a treatment based on your symptoms and needs.

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