What is Lupus?

Lindsay Knake

| 3 min read

Lindsay Knake is a brand journalist for Blue Cross Blue...

Lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and pain in any part of your body, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. An autoimmune disease causes an individual’s immune system to attack healthy tissue, typically affecting:
  • Skin
  • Internal organs such as your heart and kidneys
  • Joints
Lupus can cause many different symptoms because it can affect many different areas of the body. Symptoms may include:
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain or swelling
  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • Skin and mouth lesions
  • Hair loss
  • Sensitivity to sunlight
  • Chest pain and shortness of breath
  • A butterfly-shaped rash on the cheeks and nose
  • Fingers and toes turn white or blue with cold or stress
About 1.5 million people in the U.S. have lupus, the vast majority of whom are women, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. The disease is most often diagnosed between age 15 and 45, and lupus is more common in Black people, Hispanic people, and Asian people.
It's likely that lupus results from a combination of your genetics and your environment, but medications, infections, and sunlight can also trigger an occurrence of the disease, according to the Mayo Clinic
Getting a diagnosis can be a challenge. It takes nearly six years on average for someone to get a diagnosis, the Lupus Foundation of America reports.

What effect does lupus have?

The inflammation lupus causes can have series impacts on your body. One of the most common complications is kidney damage and failure, which is a leading cause of death from lupus.
Lupus can also cause dizziness, memory problems, blood clots, stroke, cardiovascular disease, decreased red blood cells (anemia), and heart attacks. The disease can lead to increased risk of cancer, infection, problems with bones, and pregnancy complications, according to the Mayo Clinic. About a third of lupus patients also have a co-occurring autoimmune disorder.

How do I treat lupus?

If you experience several of these symptoms, it’s best to talk to your doctor. Physicians may use blood and urine tests, imaging tests, and a kidney biopsy to make a diagnosis.
There isn’t a single test to detect lupus, and it can be a frustrating disease to deal with because the symptoms are similar to other conditions. Lupus can develop slowly or suddenly, and symptoms can be temporary or permanent.
Someone with lupus may see specialists such as a rheumatologist for joint or muscle problems, a dermatologist for skin conditions, a nephrologist for kidney problems, or a cardiologist for heart problems.
There is no cure, but lupus is treatable with medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antimalarial drugs, corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and biologics.
To help manage the illness, you can:
  • Manage sun exposure with sunscreen and protective clothing
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a nutritious diet
  • Don’t smoke
  • Talk to others who have lupus
  • Find support from family, friends, and professionals
  • Manage stress through calming activities
Learning as much as you can about lupus can help you as you move through treatment. Being able to ask informed questions and take charge in your care can make you more confident through the process. The good news is that with treatment, 80-90% of people with lupus can live a normal life span, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network members can find an in-network health care provider near them by logging in to their member accounts here on bcbsm.com.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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