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Lupus erythematosus

Published on March 8, 2024 at 8:00 / Updated on March 26, 2024 at 8:00

Lupus erythematosus, commonly known as lupus, is an autoimmune disease. This means that it causes the body's defence cells to attack not only unwanted microbes, but also healthy tissues, resulting in inflammation and damage to various parts of the body.

There are several types of lupus. The systemic form can affect the whole body. However, the most commonly affected areas are the skin and joints. Lupus symptoms vary from person to person. An individual's symptoms can also vary between active periods of the disease. The main symptoms are as follows:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Facial rash (especially on the nose and cheeks)
  • Mouth sores
  • Joint pain
  • Chest pain
  • Hair loss
  • Blood abnormalities
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Kidney problems
  • Digestive problems

The initial onset of lupus can be sudden and intense. The disease can also develop gradually over the course of months or years. In addition, a person can go through symptom-free periods where the disease appears to be cured. These are known as remissions. It can be anywhere from a few days to a few years before symptoms return. Periods when symptoms worsen are called flares.

Causes and triggers

The causes of lupus are unknown. It is believed that a combination of environmental and genetic factors may contribute to the development of the disease. These include:

  • Family history of lupus
  • Sun exposure
  • Certain viruses
  • Certain medications
  • Smoking

Certain groups are also at higher risk of developing the disease, including women, Black people, and people of Asian descent.

Lupus can lead to complications. These complications may be related to the disease itself or to methods of treatment. Here are a few examples:

  • The inflammation caused by the disease can damage the heart and blood vessels.
  • Corticosteroids, a class of drugs used to treat the disease, can lead to brittle bones.
  • Some lupus treatments suppress the immune system, which increases the risk of infections and cancer.


There is no cure for lupus, but it is possible to manage the disease through a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. How it is treated depends on the nature and severity of the symptoms.

Treating lupus involves taking medications as well as adopting healthy lifestyle habits:

  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Protecting yourself from the sun
    • Sun exposure can trigger lupus flares. There are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself:
      • Avoid sun exposure, particularly between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the sun's rays are strongest.
      • Stay in the shade as much as possible, even when the sky is cloudy.
      • Wear dark, loose-fitting, and tightly woven clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
      • Wear a wide-brimmed hat that shades your face and ears and the back of your neck.
      • Wear anti-UV sunglasses year-round.
      • Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 on exposed skin.
  • Learning to manage stress

These healthy habits provide several benefits:

  • Help controlling symptoms
  • Prevention of heart and blood vessel complications
  • Prevention of new flares

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