Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, SLE)

Lupus is a chronic (long-term) disease. It causes inflammation in the body. It mainly affects the joints, skin, and muscles. Lupus can affect almost any part of the body, and other common sites affected by lupus include the kidneys, blood cells, lungs, brain, nerves, intestines, eyes, mouth, and heart. Lupus is an autoimmune disease. This means that immune cells in the body attack normal body cells. The cause of this is not known.

Common symptoms include:

  • A butterfly-shaped rash across the bridge of the nose and cheeks or a disk-shaped rash on the face, neck, or chest

  • Sun sensitivity (a short time in the sun may lead to severe sunburn or rash)

  • Stiff, painful, or swollen joints (arthritis)

  • Fatigue or depression

  • Fever

Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicines such as oral steroids or medicines to suppress the immune system. Some people benefit from anti-malarial medicines as well. People with lupus are more likely to have heart disease. So, it is vital to manage other risk factors for heart disease. These include high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, and unhealthy cholesterol. 

There is no cure for lupus. With good care, though, most people with the condition lead normal, active lives. 

Home care

  • If you were prescribed a medicine, take it as directed.

  • Unless another pain medicine was prescribed, take an over-the-counter pain medicine such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain. Don't take ibuprofen or other NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) unless your healthcare provider has advised you to.

  • Avoid sun exposure. Cover up with clothing. Wear sunglasses. Use sun screen (at least SPF 15).

  • Get enough rest and reduce stress to help your immune system.

  • Get some physical activity every day. This will help you feel your best.

  • If you have high blood pressure, consider buying an automatic blood pressure machine (available at most pharmacies). Use this to monitor your blood pressure and report the readings to your doctor.

  • Limit alcohol intake. Eat a healthy, balanced diet low in fat and cholesterol.

  • If you smoke, quit. Smoking increases the risk of lupus-related complications.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. For more information contact the Lupus Foundation at or 800-558-0121 (English and Spanish).

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider for any of the following:

  • Increasing weakness, fainting

  • Chest pain or shortness of breath or pain with breathing

  • Severe headache with fever

  • Seizures

  • Leg swelling, redness or tenderness (sign of blood clot)

  • Unusual bruising or bleeding anywhere on your body

  • Blood in your stool (black or red color)

  • Abdominal pain, repeated vomiting

  • Blood or development of significant bubbles in the urine

  • Swelling in the legs and arms

  • Development of ulcers in the mouth

  • New rash

  • Rashes, discoloration or ulcerations on the finger tips or toes

  • You become pregnant or are planning to become pregnant

  • Any other symptoms that concern you

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