Lupus is a disease that can affect people of all ages, races, and ethnicities. The signs and symptoms vary.
What is lupus?
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in different parts of the body. An autoimmune disease occurs when the body’s immune system attacks itself. Its symptoms can show up in many different ways, which sometimes makes it hard to diagnose. Lupus symptoms can range from mild to life threatening, so early diagnosis and treatment by a rheumatologist are important. A rheumatologist is a doctor who has additional training and experience in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis, lupus, and other diseases of the joints, muscles, and bones.
Lupus Health Disparities
Systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE, is a type of lupus that can affect multiple organs. SLE occurs more in women and minorities, especially blacks, and symptoms can range from mild to life threatening. In a study examining death rates among people with lupus, blacks had higher rates of death than whites, and had significantly higher rates of death from the time of diagnosis. Among those with SLE, blacks were significantly younger when they died than whites (average age of 52 vs. 64 years). Early diagnosis of SLE and proper treatment are critical to preventing long-term consequences of the disease.
Signs and Symptoms of Lupus
People with SLE can have many different symptoms, including:
- Fatigue or extreme exhaustion no matter how much they sleep.
- Joint pain or swelling.
- Skin rashes (in particular a butterfly-shaped face rash across the cheeks and nose).
- Hair loss.
- Recurring mouth sores.
Additional symptoms or conditions can include:
- Sensitivity to the sun.
- Lung problems.
- Chest pain when deep breathing.
- Fingers or toes turning blue or white or feeling numb.
- Heart problems.
- Kidney problems.
- Psychosis (disruptive thoughts and perceptions about what is or is not real).
- Blood cell and immunological abnormalities.
People with SLE can have periods of lupus symptoms called flares, followed by symptom-free periods called remissions. They may have flares often, or years apart, throughout their life and with varying severity. There is no cure for SLE, but getting an early diagnosis and getting treatment is critical to preventing long-term consequences and managing symptoms.
How Is Lupus Diagnosed?
There is no simple test for SLE. To diagnose SLE, a doctor will take into account the patient’s symptoms, signs observed during physical exams, and the results of X-rays and lab tests. SLE may be hard to diagnose because its signs and symptoms are not specific and can look like signs and symptoms of other diseases. SLE may also be misdiagnosed, so it is important to see a doctor who specializes in rheumatology for a final diagnosis.
Other Types of Lupus among Adults
- Cutaneous lupus (skin lupus) affects the skin in the form of a rash or lesions. This type of lupus can occur on any part of the body but usually appears where the skin is exposed to sunlight.
- Drug-induced lupus is similar to SLE, but it is caused by a reaction to some medicines. Symptoms usually appear 3 to 6 months after starting a medicine and disappear once the medicine is stopped.
- CDC’s Lupus Site
- National Resource Center on Lupus external icon
- The Lupus Initiative external icon
- American College of Rheumatology external icon(ACR)
- Lupus Foundation of America external icon(LFA)
- Be Fierce. Take Control., a health campaign by ACR and LFAexternal icon
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseasesexternal icon
- Lim SS, Helmick CG, Bao G, et al. Racial Disparities in Mortality Associated with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus — Fulton and DeKalb Counties, Georgia, 2002–2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:419–422.