Understanding lupus

Are there various forms of lupus?

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Systemic lupus is the most common form of lupus—it’s what most people mean when they refer to “lupus.” Systemic lupus can be mild or severe. Below is a brief description of some of the more serious complications involving major organ systems.

  • Inflammation of the kidneys—called lupus nephritis—can affect the body’s ability to filter waste from the blood. It can be so damaging that dialysis or kidney transplant may be needed.
  • An increase in blood pressure in the lungs—called pulmonary hypertension—can cause difficulty breathing.
  • Inflammation of the nervous system and brain can cause memory problems, confusion, headaches, and strokes.
  • Inflammation in the brain’s blood vessels can cause high fevers, seizures, and behavioral changes.
  • Hardening of the arteries or coronary artery disease—the buildup of deposits on coronary artery walls—can lead to a heart attack.

Learn more about how lupus affects various organs and tissues at “Lupus and the Body”.

Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus

This form of lupus is limited to the skin. Although cutaneous lupus can cause many types of rashes and lesions (sores), the most common—called discoid rash—is raised, scaly and red, but not itchy. Areas of rash appear like disks, or circles.

Another common example of cutaneous lupus is a rash over the cheeks and across the bridge of the nose, known as the butterfly rash. Other rashes or sores may appear on the face, neck, or scalp (areas of the skin that are exposed to sunlight or fluorescent light), or in the mouth, nose, or vagina. Hair loss and changes in the pigment, or color, of the skin are also symptoms of cutaneous lupus.

Approximately 10 percent of people who have cutaneous lupus will develop systemic lupus. However, it is likely that these people already had systemic lupus, with the skin rash as their main symptom.

Drug-induced Lupus Erythematosus

Drug-induced lupus is a lupus-like disease caused by certain prescription drugs. The symptoms of drug-induced lupus are similar to those of systemic lupus, but it rarely affects major organs.

The drugs most commonly connected with drug-induced lupus include:

  • Hydralazine—Treatment for high blood pressure or hypertension
  • Procainamide—Treatment for irregular heart rhythms
  • Isoniazid—Treatment for tuberculosis

Drug-induced lupus is more common in men because they take these drugs more often; however, not everyone who takes these drugs will develop drug-induced lupus. Lupus-like symptoms usually disappear within six months after these medications are stopped.

Neonatal Lupus

Neonatal lupus is not a true form of lupus. It is a rare condition that affects infants of women who have lupus and is caused by antibodies from the mother acting upon the infant in the womb. At birth, the infant may have a skin rash, liver problems, or low blood cell counts but these symptoms disappear completely after several months with no lasting effects. Some infants with neonatal lupus can also have a serious heart defect. With proper testing, physicians can now identify most at-risk mothers, and the infant can be treated at or before birth.

Most infants of mothers with lupus are entirely healthy.

Medically reviewed on June 20, 2013

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