There’s no cure for lupus, but learning to manage your condition is possible. There are steps you can take to prevent lupus flares and feel better once they hit.

Lupus is an autoimmune condition that causes your body’s immune system to attack its own tissues. The most common form of lupus is known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). This form of lupus affects many parts of the body and can be difficult to diagnose.

SLE is most common in Black and Latina women of reproductive age, but it can affect anyone.

Many people living with lupus experience periods of time when symptoms are worse than usual, known as flares. Lupus can affect nearly any part of your body, so symptoms can be extremely varied from person to person — and even from flare to flare.

Lupus is a chronic condition, but you may not experience symptoms constantly. Lupus often cycles between periods of activity and periods of remission.

When the disease is active and there are new or worsening symptoms, it’s called a lupus flare.

What does it mean when lupus is active?

When lupus is active, it means that you’re experiencing symptoms. Symptoms may be stable and long lasting, or they may present as a flare, which is a period of new or worsening symptoms.

Flares can happen frequently, or you can experience long periods of remission between flares.

It’s not always obvious that you’re experiencing a flare. Flares may vary in severity and can look different in different people and at different times.

Lupus symptoms can mimic the symptoms of other conditions and can be subtle enough that they’re only detected on lab tests.

It can be difficult to predict the severity of symptoms you’ll experience with a flare, but most flares come with warning signs.

If you have been in a period of remission and you notice your lupus symptoms returning, you may be experiencing the start of a flare.

Symptoms of lupus

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • stiff and/or swollen joints
  • skin rashes, especially across the nose and cheeks; this is called a “malar rash” or “butterfly rash”
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • mood changes
  • abdominal and/or chest pain
  • swollen glands

If you feel a lupus flare coming on, consider consulting your healthcare team. Your healthcare team can help monitor your health and discuss treatment options that may keep the negative effects of flares at a minimum.

Autoimmune conditions like lupus cause your body’s immune system to start recognizing healthy cells as invaders, like bacteria or viruses.

In order to keep your body healthy, your immune system attacks invading cells. In the case of autoimmune conditions, the healthy cells are recognized as invaders.

The healthy tissues that the immune system attacks may become damaged and inflamed. Symptoms you may experience as part of a lupus flare are the result of this damage and inflammation.

Lupus is a very individualized condition, so your symptoms during flares may be very different from other people living with lupus. The things that trigger your lupus flares may also be different.

Common triggers for lupus flares include:

  • not getting enough rest
  • spending too much time in the sun
  • sickness and injuries
  • medication changes

The length of a lupus flare varies, but they typically last between a few days and a few weeks, depending on their severity.

Studies have shown that people with certain antibodies indicating active lupus, increased protein in the urine, and arthritis are more likely to have severe lupus flares.

There’s no way to know for sure how long your symptoms will take to subside, but it’s possible to manage your symptoms with proper treatment.

Your healthcare team can monitor your health to help limit damage to healthy tissues and prescribe treatments to help alleviate your symptoms.

When lupus symptoms appear, your healthcare team is your first line of defense. Your healthcare team can help you identify your flare’s severity, limit damage to your body, and alleviate some of your symptoms.

Before symptoms appear, there are also steps you can take to avoid a flare. Staying out of the sun, getting enough sleep, and taking care of your physical health are great ways to avoid common triggers for lupus flares.

Lupus can be unpredictable, but learning to manage your flares is possible.

Talk with your healthcare team to find out what treatment options are right to help you limit your flares and find relief when they happen.