Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) – lupus – is a long-term condition causing inflammation to the joints, skin and other organs. There's no cure, but symptoms can improve if treatment starts early.
How lupus is diagnosed
As lupus symptoms can be similar to lots of other conditions, it can take some time to diagnose.
The GP will usually do some blood tests. High levels of a type of antibody, combined with typical symptoms, means lupus is likely.
You might be referred for X-rays and scans of your heart, kidney and other organs if your doctor thinks they might be affected.
Once lupus is diagnosed, you'll be advised to have regular checks and tests, such as regular blood tests to check for anaemia and urine tests to check for kidney problems, which lupus can cause.
Lupus can range from mild to severe
Symptoms can flare up and settle down
Often the disease flares up (relapses) and symptoms become worse for a few weeks, sometimes longer.
Symptoms then settle down (remission). The reason why symptoms flare up or settle down is not yet known.
Some people do not notice any difference and symptoms are constant.
Lupus is generally treated using:
- anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen
- hydroxychloroquine for fatigue and skin and joint problems
- steroid tablets, injections and creams for kidney inflammation and rashes
Two newer medicines (rituximab and belimumab) are sometimes used to treat severe lupus. These work on the immune system to reduce the number of antibodies in the blood.
Arthritis Research UK has more information on the treatments for lupus.
Although medicines are important in controlling lupus, you can help manage your symptoms and reduce the risk of it getting worse.
LUPUS UK has support, advice and information for people with the disease.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease. This means the body's natural defence system (immune system) attacks healthy tissues.
It's not contagious.
It's not fully understood what causes lupus. A viral infection, strong medication, sunlight, puberty, childbirth and the menopause can all trigger the condition.
More women than men get lupus, and it's more common in black and Asian women.
Pregnancy and lupus
Lupus can cause complications in pregnancy.
See your doctor before trying to get pregnant to discuss the risks and so your medication can be changed if necessary.