Lupus

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease affecting about 1.5 million Americans, with an estimated 16,000 newly diagnosed each year. It is characterized by chronic inflammation causing pain, fatigue, swelling, skin lesions, joint stiffness, and adverse health effects that can impact the heart, lungs, blood cells, kidneys, and/or brain. The inflammation can lead to organ damage that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. 

The most common form of lupus is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The chronic inflammation associated with SLE can occur in many different tissues and organs, leading to different types of presentations and making it challenging to diagnose. Systemic lupus can affect the skin, brain, eyes, mouth, lungs, heart, kidneys, intestines, and joints. If lupus is limited to the skin, it’s known as cutaneous lupus.

Anyone at any age can acquire the disease, though most lupus patients are women between the ages of 15 and 44. Currently, there is no cure for lupus, but treatment can help control the autoimmune response and reduce symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How is lupus diagnosed?

    A definitive diagnosis of lupus can take years, and it's often based on a fluctuating pattern of  clinical symptoms, like skin rashes and joint pain. Lupus is often diagnosed using an anti-nuclear antibody blood test (ANA), which identifies autoantibodies that attack your body's own tissues and cells. Taken together, the symptoms and diagnostic tests help point to a diagnosis of lupus.

  • What causes lupus?

    Experts believe that multiple predisposing factors may work together to cause lupus. Genetics, infections stress, and certain medications can contribute to your risk of developing lupus. The condition affects women more often than men, and symptoms typically begin between ages 15 and 45.

  • Is lupus contagious?

    Lupus is not contagious. The condition often causes a rash, and many people fear catching a rash, but the rash that is associated with lupus is caused by an internal reaction of the body’s own immune system, and it doesn’t come from anything that you can catch from someone else.

  • Is lupus genetic?

    Some people have a genetic predisposition to lupus, but you can develop the condition if you don’t have a family history of lupus, and you don’t necessarily have to develop it if you have family members who have lupus. The hereditary pattern of inheritance and the specific genes involved in lupus are not known.

Key Terms

Page Sources
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  1. Lupus Foundation of America. Lupus facts and statistics. Updated October 6, 2016.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lupus in women. Updated October 17, 2018.

  3. American Lung Association. Lung cancer fact sheet. May 27, 2020.

  4. National Organization for Rare Disorders. Neonatal lupus. 2018.

Additional Reading