A Quick History of Lupus and Its Implications for You

Lupus Was First Identified Hundreds of Years Ago

The history of lupus is divided into three periods.

Woman touching a rash on her arm
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This period was marked by the first description of the cutaneous disorder; it is also when the term "lupus" was coined. Thirteenth Century physician Rogerius thought that facial lesions caused by the disease looked like wolf bites, hence the name "lupus" that means wolf in Latin.


This period began in 1872. This period is marked by the description of the disease’s systemic or disseminated manifestations, made by Moriz Kaposi, a student and son-in-law of the Austrian dermatologist Ferdinand von Hebra. Kaposi even made the claim that there were two forms of the disease — what we know as systemic lupus erythematosus and discoid lupus. The systemic form was firmly established by physicians Osler and Jadassohn.


This period was marked by the discovery of the LE cell in 1948 when researchers discovered these cells in the bone marrow of patients with acute disseminated lupus erythematosus.

Why Is the History of Lupus Important?

This progression of discovery paved the way for the application of immunology to the study of lupus. Today's treatments are founded on these findings.

What Is Lupus?

Lupus refers to a family of autoimmune diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), discoid (cutaneous) lupus, drug-induced lupus, and neonatal lupus. Of these types, SLE has the highest overall prevalence.

Who Develops Lupus?

Lupus is more common among women and minorities than it is among men and whites. However, lupus can occur in all people regardless of gender, race, nationality or ethnicity.

In the United States depending on race, anywhere between 20 and 150 per 100,000 women develop lupus. In the United States, lupus is most common among African Americans. Interestingly, the prevalence of lupus among Africans may be much lower than in African Americans.

How Does Lupus Work?

Interactions between your genes and environment can result in lupus or an abnormal immune reaction to your own body. With lupus, tissue-binding autoantibodies and immune complexes attack your cells and organs.

How Is Lupus Diagnosed?

A diagnosis of lupus is based on an algorithm which includes clinical characteristics and laboratory testing.

Here are some clinical signs of lupus:

  • Skin lesions
  • Alopecia (a type of hair loss)
  • Oral ulcers
  • Synovitis (inflammation of the synovial membrane in joints)
  • Neurological symptoms (seizures, psychosis and so forth)

Here are some laboratory and diagnostic findings that can be used to diagnose lupus:

  • Blood tests (low white blood cell counts, low platelet counts, and low red blood cell counts)
  • Renal function tests
  • Renal biopsy
  • Urinalysis (looking for red blood cell casts and other evidence of lupus kidney disease)
  • Immunological tests (think testing for antibodies like ANA, antiphospholipid, Anti-Sm and anti-dsDNA)
1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Somers EC, Marder W, Cagnoli P, et al. Population-based incidence and prevalence of systemic lupus erythematosus: the Michigan Lupus Epidemiology and Surveillance program. Arthritis Rheumatol. 2014;66(2):369-78. doi:10.1002/art.38238

Additional Reading
  • History of Lupus. Lupus Foundation of America. June 2008.

By Jeri Jewett-Tennant, MPH
Jeri Jewett-Tennant, MPH, is a medical writer and program development manager at the Center for Reducing Health Disparities.