Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease. It can cause many different symptoms, including fever, fatigue, rashes, body aches, and confusion. While there’s no cure, symptoms can be managed with medications, and dietary and lifestyle changes.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation throughout your body. However, it tends to primarily be localized, meaning it affects only one organ, so it doesn’t always affect the entire body.

An autoimmune disease is a condition in which your body’s own immune system causes inflammation and breakdown of its own cells.

Many people with lupus experience a mild version of it, but it can become severe without proper treatment. Currently, there’s no known cure for lupus, so treatment focuses on easing symptoms and reducing inflammation.

Lupus is usually categorized into four types:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): SLE is the most common type of lupus and may affect several different organ systems in your body, including the kidneys, skin, joints, heart, and more.
  • Cutaneous lupus: This type typically impacts your skin and may cause a rash or discoloration of the skin. It’s broken down into three additional types: acute cutaneous lupus, subacute cutaneous lupus, and chronic cutaneous lupus, also known as discoid lupus.
  • Neonatal lupus: This is a rare type and affects infants whose birthing parents have certain autoimmune antibodies. These autoimmune antibodies are transmitted from birth parent to fetus across the placenta. Symptoms of neonatal lupus often go away after several months.
  • Drug induced lupus (DIL): The use of certain prescription medications can lead to DIL. DIL may also be referred to as drug-induced lupus erythematosus (DILE). DIL usually goes away within weeks of stopping the medication that caused it to occur.

No two cases of lupus are the same. The symptoms of lupus typically start as you’re entering adulthood. This can be anywhere from your teens to your 30s. The most common symptoms and signs include:

Symptoms may:

  • be constant
  • disappear suddenly
  • flare up occasionally

Many symptoms of lupus are similar to symptoms of other conditions. Experiencing them doesn’t necessarily mean that you have lupus. However, it’s important to make an appointment with a healthcare professional to discuss them.

Continue reading about the symptoms of lupus.

Some people with lupus may find that exposure to sunlight triggers certain symptoms. These can include:

  • rashes
  • fatigue
  • joint pain
  • internal swelling

If you have lupus and are going to be outside, it’s important to wear sun-protective clothing and apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects from UVA and UVB.

Discover more tips on protecting yourself from UV radiation while living with lupus.

Skin rashes are a common symptom of lupus that many people experience.

Rash typically occurs after sun exposure. According to a 2019 review, it often presents as a butterfly-shaped rash on the cheeks and bridge of the nose.

Skin rashes may also appear as patches or ring-shaped lesions on the:

  • arms
  • legs
  • upper back
  • chest
  • neck
  • scalp
  • face
  • shoulders

These rashes may be raised, smooth, or scaly and can sometimes be painful or itchy. The rashes usually also appear red or purple and may be more noticeable in people with darker skin tones.

Pictures of lupus rashes

While experts don’t know exactly what causes lupus, they think it may be a combination of many underlying factors. These may include:

  • Environment: A 2019 review identified potential triggers like smoking, stress, and exposure to toxins like silica dust as potential lupus causes.
  • Genetics: According to the Lupus Foundation of America, more than 50 genes associated with lupus have been identified. Additionally, having a family history of lupus may put a person at slightly higher risk for experiencing the condition.
  • Hormones: A 2019 review suggests that atypical hormone levels, such as increased estrogen levels, could contribute to lupus.
  • Infections: According to a 2021 review, experts are still studying the link between lupus and infections like cytomegalovirus and Epstein-Barr.
  • Medications: Long-term use of certain medications, such as hydralazine (Apresoline), procainamide (Procanbid), and quinidine, has been linked with DIL. Also, people taking TNF blocker medications for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), inflammatory bowel disease, and ankylosing spondylitis can develop DIL. Though rare, tetracyclines, like minocycline, which can be used to treat acne and rosacea, can cause DIL as well.

It’s also possible to have experienced none of the known potential causes of lupus listed here and still have the autoimmune disease.

Read more about the potential causes of lupus.

Risk factors

Certain groups may be at a higher risk of developing lupus. Examples of risk factors for lupus include:

  • Sex Females are more likely to develop lupus than males, but the disease can present as more severe in males.
  • Age. While lupus can occur at any age, it’s most often diagnosed in people between the ages of 15 and 44.
  • Family history. Having a family history of lupus increases your risk of developing the condition.

In the United States, lupus is more common in the following groups of people:

  • People of Color
  • Black People
  • Hispanic People
  • Latino People
  • Asian People
  • Native Americans
  • Native Hawaiians
  • Pacific Islanders

Lupus can develop earlier in age and be more severe in the above groups of people. Research from 2014 shows that 1 in 537 Black females in America are affected by lupus. Researchers aren’t certain if this is due to genetic or socioeconomic factors (or both.) The LUMINA study sheds some light on factors that may play a role. However, more research is needed to determine why lupus predominantly affects these groups.

Remember that having risk factors for lupus doesn’t mean you’ll get lupus. It just means that you’re at increased risk compared to those who don’t have risk factors.

Doctors don’t use a single blood test or imaging study to diagnose lupus. Instead, they consider signs and symptoms you are experiencing and rule out other potential conditions that could be causing them.

In addition to learning about your medical history and symptoms and performing a physical examination, your doctor may also perform the following tests to diagnose lupus:

Learn more about diagnosing lupus.

Currently, there’s no cure for lupus. However, many different types of treatments can help you manage your symptoms.

According to a 2019 review, treatment for lupus focuses on several factors:

  • treating lupus symptoms when you have them
  • preventing lupus flares from occurring
  • reducing the amount of damage that occurs to your joints and organs

Following a healthcare professional’s recommended treatment regimen is important in helping you to manage your symptoms and to live a fulfilling life.

Doctors and scientists continue their research to better understand lupus and develop new treatments for the condition.

While there’s currently no cure for lupus at this time, medications are available to help you manage your symptoms and prevent lupus flares. A doctor will consider your symptoms and their severity when recommending treatments.

It’s important that you see your doctor on a regular basis. This allows them to monitor your condition and determine if your treatment plan is working to manage your symptoms.

Read more about the treatment options for lupus.

Lupus medications

Medications for managing lupus can depend on your symptoms and the severity. Medications can help to address lupus symptoms in several ways, including:

  • calming your immune system
  • reducing the amount of swelling or inflammation that you experience
  • helping to prevent damage to your joints or internal organs

Some examples of lupus medications include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Examples include over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve).
  • Antimalarial medications: Antimalarial drugs, like hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), are often considered the first-line treatment for lupus.
  • Corticosteroids: An example of a corticosteroid is prednisone. They come in several forms, including injections, topical creams, and tablets.
  • Immunosuppressive drugs: Examples of immunosuppressive drugs include methotrexate (Trexall), mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept), mycophenolic acid (Myfortic), and azathioprine (Imuran). These medications are used as off-label treatments for lupus.
  • Biologics: Biologics are medications that have a biological origin. Belimumab (Benlysta) is a biologic used to treat lupus.

Your lupus symptoms can also change over time. Because of this, your doctor may change your medications or adjust the dosage of your current medication.

It’s important to monitor how your medications affect your symptoms. If your medication has side effects or doesn’t work to treat your symptoms anymore, let your doctor know.

Learn more about the different medications for lupus.

In addition to medication, your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes to help manage your symptoms. These can include things such as:

Lupus diet

While there isn’t an established, specific diet for people with lupus, a 2019 review suggests that several dietary changes may be beneficial.

In general, aim to eat a well-balanced diet. This can include things like:

Additionally, if you experience photosensitivity due to your lupus, you may lack vitamin D. Taking a vitamin D supplement may help manage symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, which may include fatigue, muscle pain, or anxiety.

There are also some foods that people with lupus should usually avoid, mostly due to the medications you may be taking. Some examples of foods to limit or avoid include:

  • Alcohol: Alcohol can interact with many medications. It can also increase the possibility of inflammation.
  • Alfalfa: The amino acid known as L-canavanine is found in alfalfa sprouts and seeds. This amino acid may increase inflammation and lead to lupus flares.
  • Foods high in salt and cholesterol: Cutting back on salt and cholesterol may help prevent bloating and increases in blood pressure due to corticosteroid use.

Explore more tips for eating a healthy diet when you have lupus.

Managing fatigue

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of lupus. Some things you can do to help with fatigue include:

  • Understand your physical limits: While it’s important to stay active, don’t overdo it. Be sure to rest between activities.
  • Try to avoid sleeping during the day: This can interfere with your sleep at night.
  • Plan and prioritize tasks: This can help you to better manage when you’re active and when you can get some rest. For example, if you’re out running errands, try to group them together so you don’t have to keep going out.
  • Be open about your fatigue: Let your loved ones know what they can do to help.
  • Consider joining an in-person or online support group: Doing so can help you learn strategies that other people with lupus use to manage their fatigue.

The inflammation associated with lupus may lead to a variety of complications. Possible complications of lupus can include problems with:

  • Kidneys: According to a 2020 study, the inflammation from lupus can cause kidney damage and even lead to kidney failure.
  • Blood or blood vessels: A 2020 review indicates that blood vessels can become inflamed due to lupus. This is called vasculitis. Additionally, lupus can lead to problems with bleeding or blood clotting.
  • Heart: Lupus can also lead to inflammation of your heart and surrounding tissues, according to a 2020 study. It may also put you at a greater risk of heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.
  • Lungs: A 2020 review found that inflammation of the lungs due to lupus can lead to painful breathing.
  • Nervous system: When lupus affects the brain, you can experience bouts of dizziness, headaches, or even seizures, according to a 2017 review.

People with lupus are also more prone to getting infections. This is due not only to the condition but also because many medications used to treat lupus weaken or suppress the immune system.

Research shows that arthritis commonly occurs in people with lupus. You have arthritis when your joints become inflamed. This can cause swelling, pain, and a limited range of motion in the affected joints. Lupus-related arthritis is due to the increased level of inflammation in the body that’s characteristic of the condition.

If you have lupus, it’s very important that you stick to the treatment plan that your doctor has developed for you. Doing this can help prevent lupus flares and also organ damage.

Serious complications

Lupus nephritis is a serious complication that can occur due to lupus, according to a 2020 study. It happens when your immune system attacks the part of your kidneys that works to filter your blood.

It’s important to recognize the symptoms of lupus nephritis so that you can get prompt treatment. The symptoms can include:

There are several different stages of lupus nephritis, designated class I through class VI. Class I is the least severe, while class VI is the most severe.

Learn more about lupus nephritis and how it’s diagnosed and treated.

Lupus and depression

Coping with lupus can sometimes be difficult. It’s very common to have feelings of frustration or sadness. However, it’s important to distinguish between temporary negative feelings and conditions like depression.

Depression can occur in people who have lupus. According to a 2018 study, an estimated 25 percent of people with lupus also have depression. Because of this, it’s important to recognize the signs of depression so that you can get help. These include:

  • feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or guilt
  • low self-esteem
  • crying, which can happen without a specific reason
  • difficulty concentrating
  • trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • changes in appetite that cause you to gain or lose weight
  • noticing that you’re no longer interested in things that you enjoyed in the past

If you notice any of these signs in yourself, seek help. Depression can often be effectively managed through cognitive behavioral therapy and medication.

A lupus flare happens when your lupus symptoms worsen, making you feel ill. Flares come and go. Sometimes, warning signs occur before a flare, while other times, flares may occur without warning.

Several different things can trigger a flare. According to a 2016 review, some of them include:

  • exposure to UV radiation, such as sunlight or fluorescent light
  • stress
  • not getting enough rest
  • having an infection or injury
  • certain types of medications
  • not taking your lupus medications

While lupus treatment can help to prevent flares from occurring, you may still experience one while taking lupus medications. For example, if you’ve been working long hours without getting enough rest, you may have a flare even though you’re taking medication.

Lupus flares can range in severity from mild to serious. Some may only cause a rash or joint pain, while more serious flares can cause damage to your internal organs. Because of this, it’s always important to seek medical attention.

Read more about the symptoms and warning signs of a lupus flare.

People with lupus are living longer than ever because of medical innovations and improvements in diagnostic testing. Survival rates are estimated to be around 85 to 90 percent during the first 10 years.

People with mild to moderate lupus can do the following to stay healthy and avoid complications:

  • visit your doctor regularly
  • follow your treatment plan, taking all medications as directed
  • seek help if you experience new symptoms or side effects from your medications
  • review risk factors and try to take steps to reduce them
  • make a smoking cessation plan with your doctor if you smoke

Those who have severe lupus symptoms or who experience a severe flare are at greater risk of developing complications than those with mild to moderate lupus. Some complications of lupus can be life threatening.

Find out more details about lupus life expectancy and potential complications.

Is lupus contagious?

Lupus isn’t a contagious condition.

What exactly causes lupus is quite complex. Researchers believe lupus can be triggered by a combination of factors. These include things like your environment, hormones, and genetics.

Even though some people with a family history of lupus are more at risk of developing it, they don’t “catch” it from another person. In fact, you could have a family history of lupus and never develop it.

How is lupus in males different from lupus in females?

Lupus is less common in males than it is in females. A 2019 study estimated that only about 1 in 10 people who have lupus are male.

Overall, lupus symptoms are similar between males and females. A 2016 study found no difference in lupus disease characteristics between the sexes, except for hair loss being more obvious in females. However, they did find that males with lupus had higher disease activity at diagnosis.

The severity of the condition may also differ between sexes. Males may have more severe disease than females, including kidney disease and pleuritis.

How does lupus impact fertility and pregnancy?

People who have lupus can still become pregnant and have healthy children. However, pregnancy in people with lupus is considered high risk. This is because people with lupus may be more at risk of certain types of complications, including:

Some people with lupus are at particularly high risk while pregnant. This includes people with lupus who also have:

Most people with lupus will go on to have healthy babies.

It’s very rare, but sometimes people with lupus can give birth to a baby with neonatal lupus. This type of lupus typically goes away after a few months. However, some infants with neonatal lupus may have serious developmental issues in the heart.

How is lupus in children different?

Lupus is rare in children. The common lupus symptoms in children are also similar to those in adults and can include:

  • fatigue
  • fever
  • butterfly rash
  • weight loss
  • joint pain
  • loss of appetite
  • hair loss
  • swollen lymph nodes

While lupus can affect your health, it doesn’t have to affect your quality of life. By focusing on your medications and wellness, you can live as healthy as possible.

In addition to sticking to your treatment plan, some things that you can do at home to help focus on your wellness include:

Additionally, reading about other people’s lupus journeys may help you to learn more about living with lupus.

Sometimes, coping with a diagnosis of lupus may be challenging. It may help to share your experience with others through in-person or online support groups.