Lupus is an autoimmune condition which affects the body's defences against illnesses and infections.
Lupus can cause symptoms including fatigue, skin rashes, joint pain and swelling. Lupus symptoms are shared with other conditions, which can make it hard to diagnose.
The symptoms of lupus can be mild but may be life-threatening.
The causes of lupus are still poorly understood, but it is thought to be due to genetic and environmental factors.
Who gets lupus?
In the UK approximately 50,000 people are thought to have lupus, according to Lupus UK. Around 90% of people with lupus are women, usually aged between 15 and 50. People of African-Caribbean, Chinese and Asian descent are more likely to develop lupus than white people.
Types of lupus
The main types of lupus are:
Systemic lupus erythematosus: This condition is what most people mean when they refer to lupus. Systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE, can affect body tissue anywhere in the body and any organ. SLE can affect a person’s quality of life through pain, fatigue and associated depression and anxiety.
Discoid lupus erythematosus: Discoid lupus erythematosus, or DLE, is usually a milder type of lupus and usually only affects the skin. Symptoms include red, circular, scaly marks on the skin, hair loss and bald patches. A person with DLE may have to avoid direct sunlight.
Drug-induced lupus: More than 100 medications are known to cause lupus symptoms in some people. These usually stop if the medication is stopped or changed after seeking medical advice.
What are the symptoms of lupus?
The symptoms of lupus differ from one person to another and depend on the type of lupus. Some people have just a few symptoms, while others have many. In addition there are many different symptoms of lupus because the disease can affect any part of the body. Some of the more common symptoms include:
- Joint pain (arthralgia)
- Unexplained fever (more than 38C or 100.4F)
- Swollen joints ( arthritis)
- Prolonged or extreme fatigue
- Skin rash
- Ankle swelling and fluid accumulation
- Swollen lymph glands
- A butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks and nose
- Hair loss
- Depression and anxiety
- Mouth and nose ulcers
- Pale or painful fingers or toes from cold or stress (Raynaud's phenomenon)
- Memory loss
- Shortness of breath
The SLE type of lupus can lead to complications, including kidney failure (lupus nephritis), heart and cardiovascular disease or stroke.
People with SLE are also more likely to have another autoimmune condition. These include thyroid problems, Sjogren’s syndrome or Hughes syndrome.
SLE can be a concern in pregnancy as it may increase the risk of pre-eclampsia, miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth.
How is lupus diagnosed?
The diagnosis is made when a person has several symptoms of the disease.
Blood tests may be carried out to help confirm a lupus diagnosis.