Expert Health Articles


Lynn Dillon, RN, ADON

Birchaven Village

Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs. It is a complicated and unpredictable disease that can affect any organ and may cause a wide range of symptoms. Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different body systems including joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs. Lupus can mimic other diseases and not all people with lupus display the same symptoms, so it can be hard to diagnose. The symptoms depend on which body system is being affected.

Common symptoms of lupus include fatigue, fever, joint pain and swelling, skin lesions, hair loss, mouth sores, fevers, butterfly rashes on the face that cover the cheeks and nose, fingers that turn white or blue when exposed to stress or cold, shortness of breath, chest pains, dry eyes, confusion, and memory loss. No single test can diagnose lupus. The combination of blood and urine tests, signs and symptoms, and physical examination findings lead to the diagnosis. Sometimes chest X-rays and echocardiograms are needed to diagnose. 

Lupus occurs when the immune system attacks healthy tissue in the body (autoimmune disease). It has been said that lupus is a result of genetics and environment. In most cases, the cause of lupus is unknown. Lupus can occur in all races and ethnic groups. Women ages 15 to 45 who are African American are most at risk, but it can occur in anyone.

There are two different types of lupus: discoid lupus and systemic lupus. Both types follow the cyclical pattern of flares and remission. The discoid lupus primarily affects the skin, whereas the systemic lupus may affect the skin but primarily affects inner organs.

Treatment for lupus depends on its signs and symptoms. Medications and treatment options are carefully discussed with the physician to weigh the benefits and risks. Lupus is cyclical in nature; symptoms tend to come and go in intensity. Patients may feel well one week, and the next week the disease may flare. The length of time of feeling good or bad is unknown, as each episode is different. Lupus has no known cure, which means that it can last until death. It can affect work, family life, sexuality, social activities with friends, finances, and other aspects of daily living. It is important that patients learn how to cope with changes in lifestyle. 

Researchers are working hard to find a cure for lupus. There is a lupus foundation support system that is available to help bring patients and families together and provide plenty of beneficial information. These organizations also help raise awareness of lupus and its treatment. Living with lupus presents daily challenges, but through education and support, patients can live fulfilled lives.