Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) – lupus – is a long-term condition causing inflammation to the joints, skin and other organs. There's no cure, but symptoms can improve if treatment starts early.
See a GP if you often get:
- joint pain and stiffness
- extreme tiredness that won't go away no matter how much you rest
- skin rashes – often over the nose and cheeks
As well as the 3 main symptoms, you might also have:
Lupus is better managed if diagnosed and treated early.
How lupus is diagnosed
As lupus symptoms can be similar to lots of other conditions, it can take some time to diagnose.
Your GP will usually do some blood tests. High levels of a type of antibody, combined with typical symptoms, mean lupus is likely.
You might be referred for X-rays and scans of your heart, kidney and other organs if your doctor thinks they might be affected.
Once lupus is diagnosed, you'll be advised to have regular checks and tests – for example, regular blood tests to check for anaemia and urine tests to check for kidney problems, which lupus can cause.
Lupus can range from mild to severe
|Severity||How it affects the body|
|Mild||joint and skin problems, tiredness|
|Moderate||inflammation of other parts of the skin and body, including your lungs, heart and kidneys|
|Severe||inflammation causing severe damage to the heart, lungs, brain or kidneys can be life threatening|
Symptoms can flare up and settle down
Often the disease flares up (relapses) and symptoms become worse for a few weeks, sometimes longer.
Symptoms then settle down (remission). The reason why symptoms flare up or settle down is not yet known.
Some people don't notice any difference and symptoms are constant.
Treatment for lupus
Lupus is generally treated using:
- anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen
- hydroxychloroquine for fatigue and skin and joint problems
- steroid tablets, injections and creams for kidney inflammation and rashes
Two newer medicines (rituximab and belimumab) are sometimes used to treat severe lupus. These work on the immune system to reduce the number of antibodies in the blood.
Arthritis Research UK has more information on the treatments for lupus.
Living with lupus – things you can do yourself
Although medicines are important in controlling lupus, you can help manage your symptoms and reduce the risk of it getting worse.
- eat a healthy, balanced diet
- try to stay active when you're having a flare-up – try walking or swimming
- get lots of rest
- try relaxation techniques to manage stress – stress can make symptoms worse
- use high-factor (50+) sunscreen – you can get it on prescription if you have lupus
- wear a hat in the sun
- tell your employer about your condition – you might be able to adjust your working pattern
- ask for help from family, friends and health professionals
- do not smoke – stopping smoking is the most important thing to do if you have lupus
- do not sit in direct sunlight or spend a lot of time in rooms with fluorescent lights
LUPUS UK has support, advice and information for people with the disease.
Causes of lupus
Lupus is an autoimmune disease. This means the body's natural defence system (immune system) attacks healthy tissues.
It isn't contagious.
It's not fully understood what causes lupus. A viral infection, strong medication, sunlight, puberty, childbirth and the menopause can all trigger the condition.
More women than men get lupus, and it's more common in black and Asian women.
Pregnancy and lupus
Lupus can cause complications in pregnancy.
See your doctor before trying to get pregnant to discuss the risks and so your medication can be changed if necessary.
Page last reviewed: 29/08/2017
Next review due: 29/08/2020