what is lupus

This post was last updated on November 3, 2016

Systemic lupus erythematosus (also referred to as “SLE” or “lupus“) is a disease in which the body’s immune system becomes “over activated,” resulting in inflammation and damage to organs. It is one of the autoimmune diseases, which include:

The most frequent areas of inflammation are the skin, joints, lungs, heart, kidneys, blood cells and nervous system, including the brain.

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Who Gets Lupus?

The majority of people with lupus are women during the childbearing ages (15-45) who are Black, Hispanic or Asian, but men, children and the elderly can also develop the disease.

How Do Doctors Diagnosis Lupus?

Lupus symptoms can be intermittent (come and go). Lupus can “mimic” other diseases, making diagnosis a challenge. Your doctor will inquire about many symptoms. The most frequent are:

  • A facial rash that covers the nose and spreads across the cheeks
  • Rash in sun-exposed areas of skin
  • Mouth sores or ulcers
  • Joint pain or swelling affecting the small joints of the hands with prominent stiffness on awakening in the morning
  • Fatigue, weight loss, or fever

Blood tests are helpful in diagnosis. Lupus patients have one or more antibodies in the blood which are uncommon in normal persons and in those with other autoimmune diseases. Blood tests, x-rays and other tests of organ function are important in assessing organ function and damage.

How Is Lupus Treated?

Treatment for lupus focuses on managing symptoms which, if not treated, can result in damage to organs. There is no cure. Lupus symptoms and the progression of the disease vary widely, so treatment plans must be highly individualized. The most frequently prescribed medications are:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen and naproxen.
  • Cortisone containing agents such as prednisone, which are potent anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Hydroxychoroquine, a drug originally used for malaria, which has been shown to dampen the immune system
  • Methotrexate, mycophenolate, cyclophosphamide, azathioprine – all immune suppressing drugs

The goal of treatment is to reduce inflammation and force the disease into a quiet period (remission). Treatment also includes physical therapy and supportive care to help with the emotional side of having a chronic disease.

Lupus Treatment in Pittsburgh

Experts at the UPMC Lupus Center of Excellence, part of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology, are experienced at evaluating and diagnosing lupus. Our physicians can work with you to develop a persona, comprehensive plan to manage your condition.

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.