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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.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if you often get:

  • joint pain and stiffness
  • extreme tiredness that will not go away no matter how much you rest
  • skin rashes – often over the nose and cheeks

These are the main symptoms of lupus.

As well as the 3 main symptoms, you might also have:

  • weight loss
  • swollen glands
  • sensitivity to light (causing rashes on uncovered skin)
  • poor circulation in fingers and toes (Raynaud's)

Coronavirus update: how to contact a GP

It's still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:

  • visit their website
  • use the NHS App
  • call them

Find out about using the NHS during coronavirus


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.

The GP will usually do some blood tests. High levels of a type of antibody, combined with typical symptoms, means 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, such as 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

How lupus affects the body
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 do not 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's not 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.

Media last reviewed: 3 July 2018
Media review due: 3 July 2021

Page last reviewed: 30 August 2017
Next review due: 30 August 2020