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What is lupus?

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), or Lupus, is an autoimmune disease. This is where your immune system attacks your healthy cells and tissue, and in the case of lupus, it causes inflammation of your joints, skin and other organs.

It mainly affects women of a childbearing age, but it can impact anyone.

The earlier it is caught, the easier it is to manage. So, if you are worried that you may have it, speak to a doctor for more advice. Because of the varying symptoms, and the fact that a lot of them are similar to those displayed in other conditions, getting a diagnosis is not always quick.

Our online doctors can talk to you about your situation, identify if lupus is likely the cause of your symptoms, and refer you to a specialist for further investigation if necessary.

Lupus symptoms

The most common symptoms of lupus are:

  • Joint pain and swelling

    This is most common in your hands and feet and is usually worse in the morning.
  • Feeling exhausted

    No matter how much rest or sleep you get, you will still feel very tired.
  • Skin rashes

    A lupus rash is most common on the bridge of the nose and cheeks (butterfly rash), hands and wrists. The rash may get worse if exposed to sunlight.

Lupus symptoms can vary hugely from person to person, so one person’s experience with it can be very different to someone else’s.

Other symptoms you may experience include:

    • Weight loss
    • Sensitivity to light (causing skin rashes)
    • A high temperature
    • Hair loss
    • Mouth ulcers
    • Swollen lymph glands
    • Headaches or migraines
    • High blood pressure
    • Chest pain
    • Body aches
    • Tummy pain

Read a more comprehensive list of the symptoms of lupus.

Lupus diagnosis

Do not try to self-diagnose lupus - it is important to see a doctor if you believe that you may be at risk. The earlier you get a diagnosis, the easier the condition is to manage.

You may be referred to a specialist for a number of tests including:

  • Anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) test - to check if a certain antibody (ANA) is present in your blood, which is the case in most people with lupus.
  • Anti-double-stranded DNA test - to check the level of another antibody (anti-dsDNA) in the blood, which is also present in a lot of people who have lupus. During flare ups, the level of this antibody increases.

Once you have a diagnosis for lupus, you'll be required to have regular check ups and tests to monitor the condition to help prevent complications arising.

Find our more about how lupus is diagnosed.

Lupus causes

The exact causes of lupus are not known, but there is some evidence to suggest that genetics and environmental factors play a part.

Researchers have found over 50 genes that they associate with lupus, while they have also shown that if you are related to someone with the disease, or with another autoimmune disease, you are more likely to develop it.

There are also many environmental factors that are thought to increase the likelihood of you getting lupus. You can read more about the causes of lupus here.

Lupus treatment

Unfortunately, lupus cannot yet be cured, but there are several medications available that will help keep your symptoms in check. These medications include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Corticosteroids
  • Hydroxychloroquine
  • Immunosuppressants
  • Belimumab
  • Rituximab

There are also some lifestyle changes that you can make, which can help alleviate your symptoms:

  • Exercising on a regular basis
  • Getting plenty of sleep and adequate rest
  • Stopping smoking
  • Eating a well-balanced diet

In order for it to be effective, your lupus treatment will be tailored to you. You can find out more about how lupus is treated.

Lupus in pregnancy

Lupus does not affect your fertility, but it can cause pregnancy complications. However, most women with lupus can have a safe pregnancy and give birth to a healthy baby with a bit of planning.

These complications are less likely if you become pregnant when you are not experiencing a severe flare up and you are on the correct medication, which is why it is important to plan ahead.

Speak to a doctor if you are thinking of getting pregnant and they will be able to advise on what you need to consider for a safe pregnancy.

Read more about lupus and pregnancy.