General Lupus Fact Sheet
- Lupus is a chronic, unpredictable and potentially fatal autoimmune disease in which the immune system is out of balance, causing inflammation and tissue damage to any organ system in the body, including the joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, brain, blood, blood vessels and skin. The health effects of lupus may include heart attacks, strokes, seizures, miscarriages, and organ failure.
- The immune system normally protects the body against viruses, bacteria, and other foreign substances. In an autoimmune disease like lupus, the immune system loses its ability to tell the difference between foreign substances and its own cells and tissue. The immune system then makes antibodies that target the body's own tissue or "self."
- Symptoms of lupus often mimic other less serious illnesses.
- Symptoms can range in severity from mild to life-threatening.
- Lupus can go into periods when symptoms are not present, called remission.
- Although lupus can affect any part of the body, most people experience symptoms in only a few organs.
The list below includes the most common symptoms of lupus and the percentage of lupus patients who experience these symptoms.
Achy joints (arthralgia)
Frequent fevers of more than 100 degrees F.
Arthritis (swollen joints)
Prolonged or extreme fatigue
Pain in the chest on deep breathing (pleurisy)
Butterfly-shaped rash across the cheek and nose
Sun or light sensitivity (photosensitivity)
Abnormal blood clotting problems
Reynaud's phenomenon (fingers turning white and/or blue in the cold)
Mouth or nose ulcers
What are the different forms of lupus?
There are several forms of lupus: cutaneous, systemic, drug-induced, and overlap syndrome or mixed connective tissue disease.
- Cutaneous lupus is limited to the skin and is identified by a rash that may appear on the face, neck and scalp. Cutaneous lupus accounts for approximately 10 percent of all cases of lupus.
- Systemic lupus is usually more severe than cutaneous lupus, and can affect the skin, joints, and almost any organ in the body, including the lungs, kidneys, heart or brain. Approximately 70 percent of lupus cases are systemic. In about half of these cases, a major organ will be affected.
- Drug-induced lupus occurs after prolonged high doses of certain prescription medications. The symptoms of drug-induced lupus are similar to systemic lupus. The drugs most commonly connected with drug-induced lupus are hydralazine (used to treat high blood pressure or hypertension) and procainamide (used to treat irregular heart rhythms). The percentage of individuals using these drugs who develop drug-induced lupus is extremely small, and the symptoms usually fade when the medications are discontinued. Drug-induced lupus accounts for approximately 10 percent of lupus cases.
- In approximately 10 percent of all lupus cases, individuals will have symptoms and signs of more than one connective tissue disease, including lupus. A physician may use the term "overlap syndrome" or "mixed connective tissue disease" to describe the illness.
It is difficult to determine an exact number of lupus cases, and estimates vary widely.
- Based on the results of several nationwide telephone surveys, the Lupus Foundation of America estimates that approximately 1.5 million Americans, and at least five million people worldwide, have a form of the disease.
- Despite the fact that lupus can affect men and women of all ages, lupus occurs 10 to 15 times more frequently among adult females than among adult males.
- Lupus develops most often between ages 15 and 44.
- Lupus is two to three times more common among African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Asians, and Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders.
- Only 10 percent of people with lupus will have a close relative (parent or sibling) who already has lupus or may develop lupus.
- Only about 5 percent of the children born to individuals with lupus will develop the illness.
What causes lupus?
- Researchers do not know the exact cause(s) of lupus. Lupus is not infectious; you cannot catch lupus by coming in contact with someone who has the disease.
- While scientists believe there is a genetic predisposition to the disease, it is known that environmental factors also play a role in triggering the disease in people who are genetically prone to develop lupus.
- Some of the factors that may trigger lupus include infections, antibiotics, ultraviolet light, extreme stress, certain drugs, and hormones.
- Hormonal factors may explain why lupus occurs more frequently in females than in males.
Because many lupus symptoms mimic other illnesses, are sometimes vague, and may come and go, lupus can be difficult to diagnose.
Diagnosis is usually made by a careful review of:
- a person's entire medical history,
- physical examination, coupled with
- an analysis of the results obtained in routine laboratory tests and some specialized tests related to immune status.
Currently, there is no single laboratory test that can determine whether a person does or does not have lupus. It may take months or even years for doctors to piece together evolving symptoms to accurately diagnose lupus.
For the vast majority of people with lupus, effective treatment can minimize symptoms, reduce inflammation, and maintain normal body functions.
- Treatment approaches are based on the specific needs and symptoms of each person.
- Because the characteristics and course of lupus may vary significantly among individuals, it is important to emphasize that a thorough medical evaluation and ongoing medical supervision are essential to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment.
- Medications are often prescribed for people with lupus, depending on which organs are involved, and the severity of involvement.
- Commonly prescribed medications include
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs),
- antimalarials, and
- immunomodulating drugs.
- monoclonal antibodies (mAbs)
On March 9, 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Benlysta® (formerly called LymphoStat-B™) for the treatment of lupus. Benlysta was developed to disrupt activation of B lymphocytes by interfering with BLyS, a protein required for B cell activity. It is the first new medication approved for lupus in 56 years.
Increased professional awareness and improved diagnostic techniques and evaluation methods are contributing to the early diagnosis and treatment of lupus. With current methods of therapy 80-90% of people with non-organ threatening lupus can look forward to a normal lifespan.