Frequently Asked Questions About Lupus

By

Paige Greenfield

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1. What is lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system, which is normally responsible for protecting the body against germs and other threats, attacks healthy tissues. As a result, lupus causes inflammation, pain, and damage to different parts of the body.

2. Who is most likely to develop lupus?

Anyone can develop lupus, but scientists have identified several groups of people who are more likely to develop the disease:

  • Women. Ninety percent of people with lupus are female. Women are also most likely to be diagnosed with lupus during their childbearing years—ages 15 to 44.

  • People of color. Lupus is more common in African-Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders than in Caucasians.

  • Individuals with a family history of lupus. Having a relative with lupus increases your risk of developing the disease by 5 to 13 percent.

3. Why do symptoms come and go?

One main characteristic of lupus is that it’s a disease of flares. At times, symptoms are in full swing and you feel ill. At other times, symptoms go into remission and you feel better. Learning how to prevent flares and treat them when they occur can help you gain better control of the disease.

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4. How is lupus diagnosed?

There is no single test to determine if you have lupus, so doctors rely on several different factors. Your doctor will take into account your symptoms, your medical history, results of lab screenings, such as blood and urine tests, and your family’s medical history in order to arrive at a diagnosis.

5. What kinds of complications can lupus cause?

Lupus can damage any major organ or tissue in your body. It can affect your brain and central nervous system, skin, heart, lungs, joints, muscles, kidneys, and more. One of the primary goals when treating lupus is to minimize the damage it causes throughout your body.

6. How do I know if I have lupus?

Lupus can cause a wide range of symptoms because it can affect so many parts of your body. What’s more, some symptoms, like headaches or fever, may be mistaken for other illnesses, such as the flu. That’s why lupus is sometimes called the “great masquerader.” Tell your doctor if you notice any of those symptoms or the following: extreme fatigue, a butterfly-shaped rash on your cheeks and nose, painful or swollen joints, or sores in your mouth or nose. Don't hesitate to ask your doctor, "Could this be lupus?"  

7. What type of doctor treats lupus?

A rheumatologist is a doctor who specializes in conditions affecting the muscles and joints. However, if lupus affects other parts of your body, you may need to see a physician specializing in that area. For instance, if you have heart problems due to lupus, you’ll need to see a cardiologist. If you develop skin rashes, a dermatologist can help.

8. Are there medications to treat lupus?

Yes. Doctors use several different kinds. Some medications directly address the disease, while others help control symptoms. People with lupus may take medications, such as corticosteroids, anti-inflammatories, antimalarials, and immunosuppressives.

9. What lifestyle changes can I make to help keep lupus under control?

Try to exercise regularly. It helps reduce stress, protects your heart, and can help with muscle stiffness. It’s also important to get plenty of rest—at least seven hours of sleep per night. Finally, take steps to protect your skin from the sun, which can cause symptoms to flare. Wear sunscreen, avoid being outside in the middle of the day, and when possible, keep your skin covered and wear a broad-brimmed hat.


10. Can lupus be cured?

Currently, there is no cure for lupus. However, unlike diseases in which symptoms linger, people with lupus experience periods of remission—times when symptoms improve and you feel well. With treatment it’s possible to manage the disease and remain involved with your work, family, and many of the activities that you love to do.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 10, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Impact of Lupus on the Body. Lupus Foundation of America, Inc. http://www.lupus.org/resources/impact-of-lupus-on-the-body