Overview of Lupus

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Systemic lupus is a disease that causes your body's immune system to attack its own cells and tissues. This can affect your joints and organs such as the skin and kidneys.

Anyone can develop lupus, but scientists have identified several groups of people who are more likely to develop the disease:

  • Women. Ninety percent of people with lupus are female. Women are also most likely to be diagnosed with lupus during their childbearing years—ages 15 to 44.

  • People of color. Lupus is more common in African-Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders than in Caucasians.

  • Individuals with a family history of lupus. Having a relative with lupus increases your risk of developing the disease by 5 to 13 percent. Laboratory testing can confirm if you have a specific collection of genes (haplotype) that most frequently implicated in systemic lupus.

There is no single test to determine if you have lupus, so doctors rely on several different factors. Your doctor will take into account your symptoms; your medical history; results of lab screenings, such as blood and urine tests; and your family's medical history in order to arrive at a diagnosis.
Lupus is an ongoing problem that can be serious, but it doesn't have to prevent you from doing the things you enjoy. Comprehensive medical intervention can reduce the frequency and severity of lupus attacks. Lupus care is complex because your doctor needs to manage both the lupus itself as well as other medical problems caused by the lupus (i.e. high blood pressure, thyroid dysfunction, etc.) You can help control lupus by living a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Be sure to see your doctor for regular checkups and lab work. At some point, your doctor may send you to a rheumatologist, which is a doctor who specializes in lupus, arthritis, and other related diseases.

Medications can't cure lupus, but they can relieve symptoms. Some medications help prevent organ damage or suppress the disease. Your doctor will prescribe one or more medications to help you feel better. Be sure to take them as directed, and follow these tips:

  • Keep a list of all your medications. Share the list with each doctor you see.

  • Don't skip a dose or stop taking a medication without talking with your doctor.

  • Find out if your medications should be taken with food.

  • Tell your doctor if you have any side effects, such as dizziness or stomach problems.

  • Be sure to have all the lab tests that your doctor orders.

It's important to take care of yourself in other ways, too:

  • Find the right balance of rest and activity.

  • Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and grains.

  • Maintain your proper weight.

  • Exercise a few times a week, at least. Try walking, swimming, or biking.

  • Learn ways to reduce or manage stress.

  • Stay out of the sun as much as you can. Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.

Lupus can put special demands on your life. Family and friends can be a good source of help and moral support. You may also want to join a support group for lupus patients. By talking with other people who have lupus, you may feel less alone and learn new ways to cope. 

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Apr 22
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