- National Resource Center on Lupus
- Understanding Lupus
- What is lupus?
What is lupus?
Lupus is a chronic (long-term) disease that can cause inflammation and pain in any part of your body. It’s an autoimmune disease, which means that your immune system — the body system that usually fights infections — attacks healthy tissue instead.
Lupus most commonly affects your:
Because lupus affects many parts of the body, it can cause a lot of different symptoms.
Learn more about lupus signs and symptoms
Inflammation usually happens when your immune system is fighting an infection or an injury. When lupus makes your immune system attack healthy tissue, it can cause inflammation in lots of different body parts. Symptoms can include swelling and pain.
What are the types of lupus?
When people talk about lupus, they’re usually talking about systemic lupus. But there are four kinds of lupus:
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the most common form of lupus
- Cutaneous lupus, a form of lupus that is limited to the skin
- Drug-induced lupus, a lupus-like disease caused by certain prescription drugs
- Neonatal lupus, a rare condition that affects infants of women who have lupus
Who is at risk for developing lupus?
Anyone can develop lupus. But certain people are at higher risk for lupus, including:
- Women ages 15 to 44
- Certain racial or ethnic groups — including people who are African American, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, or Pacific Islander
- People who have a family member with lupus or another autoimmune disease
people with lupus are women.
Read more facts and statistics about lupus
What causes lupus?
No one knows what causes lupus — but lupus and other autoimmune diseases do run in families. Experts also think it may develop in response to certain hormones (like estrogen) or environmental triggers. An environmental trigger is something outside the body that can bring on symptoms of lupus — or make them worse.
Lupus is not contagious—you can’t “catch” lupus or give it to someone else.
Learn more about possible causes and triggers of lupus
What are the early symptoms of lupus?
There is no one first sign or symptom of lupus. The early signs and symptoms of lupus are generally the same as the symptoms of lupus, including extreme fatigue, joint pain, or a butterfly rash. However, the early signs vary widely from person to person.
A doctor can help you with a diagnosis to determine if the symptoms you're feeling could possibly be lupus. To help you, we created the Could It Be Lupus questionnaire. Answer the questions about yourself and your signs and symptoms, and then print out your answers to share with your doctor.
Watch this educational and engaging explanation of what lupus is and how it affects people, showing the difficulty to describe, diagnose, treat and live with this complex and unpredictable disease.
Want to print information about lupus? Download our Understanding Lupus fact sheet:
- English: Understanding Lupus [PDF - 1.3 MB]
- Spanish: Entendiendo el lupus [PDF - 2 MB]
- Chinese (Simplified): 了解狼疮 [PDF - 1.4 MB]
Our health educators are available to answer your questions and give you the help you need.Contact a Health Education Specialist