what is lupus

Systemic lupus erythematosus (also referred to as “SLE” or “lupus“) is a disease in which the body’s immune system becomes “overactivated,” resulting in inflammation and damage to organs.

It is one of many 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?

Nine of 10 people who get lupus are women. The majority of people with lupus are women of childbearing ages (15-45). Women who are Black, Hispanic, or Asian are more at risk.

However, men, children, and the elderly also can develop the disease.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Lupus?

Lupus symptoms can be intermittent (come and go). Lupus can “mimic” other diseases, making it a challenge to diagnose.

The most frequent symptoms 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.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call your doctor.

On your visit, your doctor will take a history and ask about your symptoms before ordering diagnostic tests.

Blood tests are helpful in diagnosis. Lupus patients have one or more antibodies in the blood that are uncommon in healthy people and in people 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 symptom. Left untreated, those symptoms 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.
  • Hydroxychloroquine, 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 personal, comprehensive plan to manage your condition.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 1-800-533-8762.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC

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