Lupus is a long-term condition that causes joint pain, skin rashes and tiredness. There's no cure, but symptoms can improve if treatment starts early.
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if you often get:
- joint and muscle pain
- extreme tiredness that will not go away no matter how much you rest
- rashes – often over the nose and cheeks
These are the main symptoms of lupus.
You might also have:
- mouth sores
- high temperature
- hair loss
- sensitivity to light (causing rashes on uncovered skin)
Lupus is better managed if it's found and treated early.
How lupus is diagnosed
Lupus, also called systemic lupus erythematosus, is not always easy to diagnose because it can be similar to other conditions.
Symptoms include inflammation of different parts of the body including the lungs, heart, liver, joints and kidneys.
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 the 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.
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
Lupus often 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 known.
Some people do not notice any difference and their 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 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.
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.
use high-factor (50+) sunscreen – you can get it on prescription if you have lupus
learn to pace yourself to avoid getting too tired
try to stay active even on a bad day
try relaxation techniques to manage stress – stress can make symptoms worse
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
eat a healthy, balanced diet, including vitamin D and calcium
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 condition.
Causes of lupus
Lupus is an autoimmune disease. This means the body's natural defence system (immune system) attacks healthy parts of your body.
It's not contagious.
The causes of lupus are not fully understood. Possible causes include:
- viral infection
- certain medicines
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 a doctor before trying to get pregnant to discuss the risks and so your medicine can be changed if necessary.
Video: lupus in children
Watch this video to find out how lupus (an autoimmune condition) affects children.
Media review due: 1 July 2024
Page last reviewed: 23 September 2020
Next review due: 23 September 2023