Lupus is a chronic disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues. It can affect many different body tissues and organs, including the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels, and brain.
Symptoms can vary. Symptoms can occasionally flare, then improve, and wax and wane over time.
Signs and symptoms depend on the organ affected by the disease. People with lupus can:
Get rashes on any part of the body that is exposed to sun (for example, a butterfly-shaped rash across the nose and cheeks)
Feel tired or weak
Lose some hair
Have joint pain and stiffness
Have chest pain when breathing deeply
Have trouble breathing
Have memory problems
Get dry eyes
Have kidney problems, called lupus nephritis
Lose or gain weight
Have swelling in the hands, feet, belly, or around the eyes
Get cold fingers or toes that turn pale or blue
There is no specific test for lupus. The diagnosis of lupus is usually made based on symptoms, family history of autoimmune disease, physical examination, along with blood and urine test findings. Blood tests can look for autoantibodies associated with lupus. Urine samples with increased protein or red blood cells suggest lupus affecting the kidneys. If the diagnosis is not clear, additional tests such as imaging studies and kidney or skin biopsies may be ordered.
The goals of treatment are to provide symptom relief, prevent flares, and to reduce organ damage. Treatment for lupus include:
Pain relievers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen are used to treat pain and swelling associated with lupus.
Corticosteroids. Corticosteroids such as prednisone can reduce swelling, tenderness, and pain. At high doses, it can calm the immune system.
Antimalarial drugs. Medicines used to treat malaria, hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, can treat lupus symptoms as well as reduce lupus flares.
Immunosuppressants. Immunosuppressants are sometimes used in severe cases. These medications are considered when other treatments do not work because they lower the body’s ability to fight off infections and may increase the risk of cancer.
Biologics. These medicines block the amount of abnormal cells in the immune system that create the auto-antibodies found in people with lupus.
Anticoagulants. Blood thinners are used to prevent blood clots.