Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that turns the body’s immune system against itself. Normally, the body produces antibodies to fight off foreign agents like viruses and harmful bacteria. With lupus, the immune system becomes confused and interprets the body’s own healthy tissues and cells as dangerous and attacks them.
Lupus may be mild or life-threatening. There are several different kinds of lupus, but the most common is systemic lupus erythematosus which can affect multiple parts of the body at once. Other forms may cause skin rashes, including a type where sun exposure causes sores. Additionally, there is a drug-induced lupus triggered by certain medications and neonatal lupus, a rare form manifesting in newborns.
Symptoms are varied due to the unpredictable way the disorder attacks the organs and tissues. While many symptoms can be caused by lupus, the most common ones are:
The cause of lupus is unknown. This fact compounded with its range of symptoms may makes it difficult to diagnose. Around 1.5 million Americans are currently diagnosed with lupus, but there may be more. Lupus can appear as other diseases and conditions, including Lyme disease, diabetes, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and many others. For these reasons, diagnosing a patient with lupus may take a long time.
Lupus is a chronic condition, meaning it may last years or be lifelong, and it flares, meaning the patient will have periods of feeling much worse or feeling better. There is no cure and it is not yet a well-understood condition, but proper treatment has allowed lupus patients to lead full lives.
Patients with lupus will usually have several healthcare team members helping manage the condition, including different doctors like pain specialists and rheumatologists for specific aspects of their symptoms. Proper medication can reduce pain and inflammation, prevent damage to organs and joints, reduce flares and support the immune system. Many patients find support groups helpful in coping with lupus.