What Are the Four Types of Lupus? Everything to Know

Medically Reviewed By Margaret R. Li, MD, FACR

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disorder that can affect the entire body. The most common type of lupus is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Other types are cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE), neonatal lupus, and drug-induced lupus.   Lupus typically affects the skin, joints, and sometimes internal body organs, but the exact effects depend on the type of lupus. For instance, CLE tends to affect only the skin and will not have as widespread effects on the rest of the body as other types of lupus.

Also, both drug-induced lupus and neonatal lupus can be temporary. 

The types of lupus will also have different symptoms, treatments, and causes. This article explains the four types of lupus, including their symptoms, causes and treatment, and when to contact a doctor.

Systemic lupus erythematosus

A woman is lying on a bed looking at a laptop.
Melanie Acevedo/Getty Images

SLE is the most common type of lupus, accounting for about 70% of all lupus cases.

Most SLE cases begin between ages 15–45 Trusted Source National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Governmental authority Go to source , but the condition can also start earlier or later.

Lupus is also more common in people assigned female at birth and tends to occur more if there is a family history of lupus.

Symptoms of SLE include widespread inflammation from the immune system attacking the body. Permanent tissue damage can sometimes occur.

The symptoms of lupus vary. Some people will have more severe symptoms, while others will have mild ones. 

Lupus symptoms can also flare, which means you may feel better at times than others. SLE can affect the:

  • skin
  • joints
  • heart
  • lungs
  • kidneys
  • blood cells
  • brain 

Learn more about SLE.

Cutaneous lupus erythematosus 

CLE affects only the skin. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks healthy skin cells. 

CLE is subdivided into three categories:

  • discoid
  • subacute cutaneous
  • acute cutaneous

This type of lupus can lead to rashes and sores. Most often, symptoms appear on sun-exposed areas such as the:

  • face
  • ears
  • neck
  • arms
  • legs

UV exposure from the sun or artificial tanning lights can prompt or worsen the condition. Healthcare professionals may need to monitor you in case other lupus symptoms develop.

Neonatal lupus 

Neonatal lupus is not a true form of lupus because it is temporary and caused by maternal antibodies. However, the rash and other symptoms resemble lupus.

Neonatal lupus may cause a baby to develop liver problems or a rash at birth, but most symptoms resolve after 6 months with no long-term effects.

Although rare, a congenital heart block is a severe neonatal lupus complication that may become permanent.

Contact a high risk obstetrician and pediatric cardiologist if you have concerns about the antibodies that could lead to neonatal lupus. They can monitor the heart of the fetus during pregnancy.

Drug-induced lupus 

Drug-induced lupus is temporary, but it can have symptoms like lupus.

Unlike lupus, drug-induced lupus usually does not lead to severe organ complications. Symptoms typically disappear within 6 months of discontinuing the medication that caused the reaction.

The symptoms of drug-induced lupus include:

The three medications most commonly associated with drug-induced lupus are:

  • hydralazine, which doctors use for high blood pressure
  • isoniazid, which doctors use to treat tuberculosis
  • procainamide, which doctors use to treat irregular heart rhythms

Being prescribed these medications does not mean you will develop drug-induced lupus. The risk of developing drug-induced lupus ranges from less than 0.1% to 5%, depending on which medication you take and for how long. 

What causes different types of lupus?

SLE and CLE are autoimmune disorders in which the immune system attacks the body. Like many autoimmune disorders, doctors are unsure of their causes.

Lupus might develop due to a combination Trusted Source National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Governmental authority Go to source of genetic and environmental factors.

Neonatal lupus occurs when a pregnant person passes certain antibodies onto the unborn baby.

Drug-induced lupus rarely occurs as a side effect of some medications, including those for heart disease, blood pressure, and tuberculosis

What are the treatments for different types of lupus?

The treatment depends on the symptoms.

For instance, if lupus has affected your kidneys, you may need medication specific to the kidneys. If lupus has affected your blood pressure, medication to lower your pressure may be needed. 

In general, treatments for lupus Trusted Source National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Governmental authority Go to source include:

  • anti-inflammatory medications 
  • antimalarials
  • corticosteroids, 
  • immunosuppressants 
  • biologic medications, which target parts of the immune system

The goal of treating lupus is to control symptoms and prevent long-term damage. Doctors will use various treatment strategies, and your treatment plan may change over time. 

Learn more about medical treatments for lupus.

When should I see a doctor?

Lupus symptoms can vary and be wide-ranging. They may come and go and be worse at certain times than others. 

Contact a doctor if you have a family history of autoimmune diseases or lupus and are experiencing fevers, joint pain, fatigue, or skin issues. 

Keep track of new or unexplainable symptoms, including when they happen and what makes them worse. You may find it helpful to write them down or document them online or in your phone. This information will be beneficial to your doctor.

Our lupus appointment guide can help you to prepare for your appointment.

How do doctors diagnose lupus?

There is no test for lupus. Instead, doctors will look at your health history, including past and current symptoms, and perform a physical exam.

To reach a diagnosis, tests might include Trusted Source National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Governmental authority Go to source :

  • blood tests to check for antinuclear, anti-smith, antiphospholipid, and anti-double-strand DNA antibodies
  • complete blood counts to check for low platelets and white blood cell levels
  • urine samples to check how well your kidneys are functioning
  • skin or kidney biopsy

Find out more about how doctors diagnose lupus.

Which is the most common type of lupus?

About 70% of people have SLE. And though anyone can get lupus, it is most common Trusted Source National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Governmental authority Go to source in:

  • people assigned female at birth
  • people ages 15–45
  • African Americans
  • people of American Indian and Asian descent
  • people who have a family member with another autoimmune disorder or lupus

Learn more

Summary

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disorder that occurs when the immune system causes inflammation and attacks systems and parts of the body. Lupus most often affects the kidneys, liver, and heart and impacts joints, skin, and blood cells. 

There are four types: systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE), neonatal lupus, and drug-induced lupus. 

SLE is the most common type of lupus and is the form of the disease most people are familiar with. Some people with SLE will also go on to develop CLE, which is lupus that affects the skin. 

Lupus can be challenging for health professionals to identify and diagnose, but if you have unexplained symptoms such as joint pain, swelling, rashes, hair loss, and fevers, contact a doctor. 

Also, tell the doctor about all past and present symptoms and whether you have a family history of autoimmune diseases, including any family members with lupus. 

Was this helpful?
2
  1. Neonatal lupus. (2018). https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/neonatal-lupus/?filter=ovr-ds-resources
  2. Oakley, A., et al. (2021). Cutaneous lupus erythematosus. https://dermnetnz.org/topics/cutaneous-lupus-erythematosus
  3. Systemic lupus erythematosus (Lupus). (2022). https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/lupus
  4. What is drug-induced lupus? (n.d.). https://www.lupus.org/resources/about-drug-induced-lupus
  5. What is lupus? (2020). https://www.lupus.org/resources/what-is-lupus
  6. What is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)? (2021). https://www.lupus.org/resources/what-is-systemic-lupus-erythematosus-sle

Medical Reviewer: Margaret R. Li, MD, FACR
Last Review Date: 2023 Feb 23
View All Lupus Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.