Lupus develops when the immune system, which normally attacks germs and viruses, instead attacks healthy tissues of the body. No one is sure why this happens. This attack can cause inflammation, which leads to redness, pain and swelling in the affected parts of the body. These include the joints, skin, kidneys, lungs, blood vessels, heart or brain. Lupus symptoms, as well as treatment for these symptoms, vary from person to person.

Symptoms of Lupus

Lupus can affect many parts of the body, although usually only a few parts of the body are affected in a person. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Being extremely tired
  • Painful, red and swollen joints
  • Unexplained fever
  • Skin rashes
  • Kidney problem

What are the different kinds of lupus?
There are 3 kinds of lupus:

  • SLE (systemic lupus erythematosus):
    "Systemic" means the disease can affect many parts of the body. Symptoms may be mild, moderate or severe. SLE most often affects women between the ages of 15 and 45.
  • Discoid or cutaneous lupus:
    This disease mainly affects the skin. The person may have a red rash or a color change on the face, scalp, or other parts of the body. Sometimes a person with this kind of lupus will later develop SLE.
  • Drug-induced lupus:
    Older men and women of any race may get this kind of lupus. It is caused by a small number of prescription drugs. Symptoms gradually subside when the drug is stopped.

Who gets lupus?
Nine out of ten people who have lupus are women. While lupus can affect anyone, African-American women are 3-4 times more at risk than Caucasian women. Latina and Asian women also develop lupus more frequently. Right now there is no cure for lupus, but it can be treated and many people with lupus can have a job, a family, and a happy life. People with lupus experience times of being well and times of being ill (called a lupus "flare"). Monitoring and treating flares can help people with lupus lead healthier lives.

How do people get lupus?
No one understands exactly why people get lupus. It is probably a combination of risk factors, including genetic, environmental or hormonal factors. Lupus can run in families, but it is unlikely chance that a child or a brother or sister of someone with lupus will have the disease too. Some of the possible environmental risk factors for lupus include sunlight, stress, certain drugs or infections, and chemicals found in the environment.

Lupus Self-Test

QuestionsYes or No
Have you ever had achy, painful and/or swollen joints for more than 3 months?YesNo
Do your fingers and/or toes become pale, numb or uncomfortable in the cold?YesNo
Have you had any sores in your mouth for more than 2 weeks?YesNo
Have you ever been told that you have a low blood count, like anemia, low white cell count or a low platelet count?YesNo
Have you ever had a noticeable redness or color change on your face in the shape of a butterfly across the bridge of your nose and cheeks?YesNo
Have you ever had an unexplained fever over 100 degrees for more than a few days?YesNo
Have you ever had a sensitivity to the sun where your skin breaks out after being in the sun, but it is not a sunburn? YesNo
Have you ever had chest pain with breathing for more than a few days (called pleurisy)?YesNo
Have you ever been told you have protein in your urine?YesNo
Have you ever had persistent, extreme fatigue/exhaustion and weakness for days or weeks at a time even after 6 to 8 hours of restful sleep at night?YesNo
Have you ever had a seizure or convulsion?YesNo

If you answered yes to at least 3 of these questions, there is a possibility you might have lupus. The following steps are recommended if you had more than 3 positive responses:

  • See your doctor and get a physical examination.
  • When you visit your doctor, give the doctor your medical history. It might be helpful to write this down before the visit.
  • Tell your doctor if someone in your family has lupus.
  • Tell your doctor about medicines you are taking.
  • Be tested for lupus.

Adapted from "Lupus Self-Screening Test" by Lupus Foundation of America, Mass. Chapter

The Lupus Foundation Of Greater Washington provides information on Lupus in Spanish can be found.


This information is provided by the Environmental Health within the Department of Public Health.