The role of the immune system in causing diseases is becoming better understood through research. This knowledge will be applied to design safer and more effective treatment methods. For example, completely revising the immune system of people with extremely aggressive treatments that virtually temporarily wipe out the immune system is being evaluated. Current studies involve immune eradication with or without replacement of cells that can reestablish the immune system (stem-cell transplantation).
Photosensitive systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) rashes typically occur on the face or extremities, which are sun-exposed regions. Although the interphalangeal spaces are affected, the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) and proximal interphalangeal (PIP) and distal interphalangeal (DIP) joints are spared. Photo courtesy of Dr. Erik Stratman, Marshfield Clinic.
Researchers have made great progress in identifying people at-risk for lupus and the molecular markers (something found in cells that can predict lupus flares) that appear before the onset of symptoms. From these advances, scientists hope to generate early-intervention or even disease-prevention strategies. For people with established lupus, research is focused on designing new clinical trials that test drug candidates, which, if successful, could be combined with existing therapies. The Lupus Research Alliance is funding the most innovative research in the world, with the hope of finding better diagnostics, improved treatment and, eventually, a cure.
Get involved in your care. Learn as much as you can about lupus, your medications, and what kind of progress to expect. Take all your medications as your doctor prescribes, and visit your rheumatologist often to prevent serious problems. This lets your doctor keep track of your disease and change your treatment as needed. If you do not live near a rheumatologist, you may need to have your primary care doctor manage your lupus with the help of a rheumatologist.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), commonly known as "lupus," is an autoimmune illness. The immune system, which normally protects the body from foreign invaders and infection, malfunctions and instead attacks a person's own healthy body tissues. Its cause is unknown, but most scientists believe that genetics, combined with outside triggers (such as infections, medications or other environmental factors) lead people to develop lupus. Lupus is a lifelong condition, but symptoms tend to cycle in alternate periods of "flares" (or "flares-ups") and remissions. Lupus affects women much more than men. There is no known cure, but numerous treatments are available.
As someone who has healed Lupus, I often get asked about the importance of diet. Several years ago I was diagnosed with lupus. I could barely get out of bed or walk, had a hard time holding a glass of juice due to joint pain, suffered from all over body muscle aches, endured a constant low grade fever, and itched uncontrollably on my arms with skin rash. I new my life, as I new it, was over. I was petrified.
Other sets of criteria, known as disease activity indices, exist for the monitoring of lupus. These forms allow a physician examining a patient to check for the improvement or worsening of the disease. These forms include the BILAG (British Isles Lupus Assessment Group Index), SLEDAI (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Activity Index), SLAM (Systemic Lupus Activity Measure), ECLAM (European Consensus Lupus Activity Measurement), and the Lupus Activity Index (LAI). Sometimes these indices will show no signs of lupus, even when the patient feels badly. This is because some of the problems that occur in lupus, such as chronic fatigue and pain, are not tracked by the indices. Instead, these symptoms represent a co-occuring problem called fibromyalgia.
Unfortunately, there are no widely accepted diagnostic criteria for SLE. However, many doctors use the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) 11 common criteria. These criteria were designed to identify subjects for research studies, so they are very stringent. If you currently have four or more of these criteria or if you've had them in the past, chances are very high that you have SLE. However, having less than four doesn't rule out SLE. Again, additional testing may be necessary to inform a formal diagnosis. These criteria include:
The Scientific Advisory Board is comprised of leading lupus experts. Following the first stage of the peer review process, the Scientific Advisory Board conducts a second level of detailed analysis of the projects that are submitted to our organization. The goal is to make a determination about which of these excellent projects should actually be recommended to our board of directors for funding.

If you have lupus you may have noticed that certain foods tend to lead to lupus flares. A lupus flare is a period when the symptoms of lupus become more active. Kathleen LaPlant, of Cape Cod, Mass., was diagnosed with systemic lupus several years ago. "I have learned to be careful with foods that seem to trigger lupus symptoms. The biggest trigger for me has been fried foods. I have had to eliminate these from my diet," says LaPlant. It is hard to predict which foods may trigger a lupus flare, but you can start by paying close attention to your diet. If a particular type of food repeatedly causes problems, try taking it out of your diet and see if it makes a difference.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disorder that causes extreme fatigue. This fatigue is not the kind of tired feeling that goes away after you rest. Instead, it lasts a long time and limits your ability to do ordinary daily activities. The main symptom of CFS is severe fatigue that lasts for 6 months or more. You also have at least four of these other symptoms:

Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) revealed regions of linkage that were found on most chromosomes.[52] These studies are useful in identifying the genes that may be responsible for complex diseases such as SLE. Candidate gene loci implicated with SLE include multiple alleles from the HLA region, Fc-gamma receptor, and complement component system.[50] However, association does not prove that a specific form of a gene is responsible for the disease, as there may be other polymorphisms in the region that have a greater association effect.[50] However, because the biological role of most genes are not completely understood, it can be difficult to attribute phenotypic traits to certain genetic polymorphisms. Since SLE is associated with so many genetic regions, it is likely an oligogenic trait, meaning that there are several genes that control susceptibility to the disease.[50] Further complicating our understanding is the association of certain linkages with various ethnic groups.[50]
Limited evidence suggests that supplementation may be clinically beneficial in SLE patients with low levels of vitamin D. In Mediterranean patients,  female patients who were not receiving supplemental vitamin D showed more fatigue and received more oral corticosteroids than those with normal levels of vitamin D. [109] In Australian patients, an increase in serum vitamin D levels was associated with reduced disease activity over time. [152]

Other drugs used to treat lupus include the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which modulates the immune system, and belimumab, a targeted drug that is a biologic (meaning it’s made from natural sources). Some chemotherapy drugs and anti-rejection drugs may be used, too, to treat patients with lupus nephritis or other organ problems, says Caricchio.
While the genetics of SLE are not very well understood, there is growing evidence for the involvement of specific genes in this complex autoimmune disease. Part of the complexity of this disease is due to the effects of both environment and genetics factors that may contribute to its development.[49] Further compounding our understanding of the etiology of the disease is the involvement of several organ systems.[50] Genetic studies of the rates of disease in families supports the genetic basis of this disease with a heritability of >66%.[51] Identical (monozygotic) twins were found to share susceptibility to the disease at >35% rate compared to fraternal (dizygotic) twins and other full siblings who only showed a 2–5% concordance in shared inheritance.[51]
Anitphospholipid Antibodies (APLs): Phospholipids are antibodies that are present in approximately one out of every two people with lupus.  A positive test can help confirm diagnosis as well as help identify women with lupus who have certain risks (like blood clots and miscarriage) that would require preventative treatment and monitoring. Note that the presence of phospholipids also occurs in people without lupus and therefore, there presence alone is not enough for a lupus diagnosis.

If you have difficulty with certain tasks in the kitchen due to stiffness, pain or weakness, there is a wide range of special equipment available that can make things easier. You can find details about many of these products for homes and kitchens HERE. You may wish to discuss the possibility of being referred to your rheumatology clinic’s occupational therapy team so that you can have your individual needs assessed.

When the kidneys or central nervous systems are affected immunosuppressive drugs such as cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) and mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept) may be used. These drugs restrain the overactive immune system by blocking production of immune cells. Side effects may include nausea, vomiting, hair loss, bladder problems, decreased fertility, and increased risk of cancer and infection. The risks increase with the length of treatment.
The EULAR recommendations indicate that in pregnant women with SLE, prednisolone, azathioprine, hydroxychloroquine (unnecessary discontinuation of hydroxychloroquine during pregnancy may result in lupus flares), and low-dose aspirin may be used. [61] Prednisone, prednisolone, and methylprednisolone are the corticosteroids of choice during pregnancy because of their minimal placental transfer. However, mycophenolate mofetil, cyclophosphamide, and methotrexate are strictly contraindicated. [61]
Similarly, a phase III trial of 819 SLE patients who were positive for either antinuclear antibody or anti–double-stranded DNA at baseline screening found that IV belimumab at 10 mg/kg plus standard therapy resulted in a significantly greater SRI score (43.2%) than placebo (33.5%) at 1 year (those who received belimumab 1 mg/kg plus standard therapy had a 40.6% response rate). [118] Overall, the addition of belimumab to standard therapy reduced SLE disease activity and severe flares, and the medication was well tolerated. [118]
While SLE can occur in both males and females, it is found far more often in women, and the symptoms associated with each sex are different.[5] Females tend to have a greater number of relapses, a low white blood cell count, more arthritis, Raynaud's phenomenon, and psychiatric symptoms. Males tend to have more seizures, kidney disease, serositis (inflammation of tissues lining the lungs and heart), skin problems, and peripheral neuropathy.[12]
While the genetics of SLE are not very well understood, there is growing evidence for the involvement of specific genes in this complex autoimmune disease. Part of the complexity of this disease is due to the effects of both environment and genetics factors that may contribute to its development.[49] Further compounding our understanding of the etiology of the disease is the involvement of several organ systems.[50] Genetic studies of the rates of disease in families supports the genetic basis of this disease with a heritability of >66%.[51] Identical (monozygotic) twins were found to share susceptibility to the disease at >35% rate compared to fraternal (dizygotic) twins and other full siblings who only showed a 2–5% concordance in shared inheritance.[51]
In the absence of systemic lupus erythematosus, the most common reason for a positive ANA test is the presence of another connective tissue disease. Diseases that often are associated with a positive ANA test include Sjögren's syndrome (68 percent of affected patients), scleroderma (40 to 75 percent), rheumatoid arthritis (25 to 50 percent), and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (16 percent).20 An ANA test also can be positive in patients with fibromyalgia. In patients with diseases other than systemic lupus erythematosus, ANA titers usually are lower, and the immunofluorescent pattern is different.20

Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.


People with lupus should know that most rashes, and sometimes other symptoms, are aggravated by sun exposure, so you’ll want to avoid it or use sun protection. It’s critical to talk to your doctor about skin rashes and lesions that you observe, as many are treated differently, and some can be signs that the disease is progressing or changing. You may need other treatments, too.


Rate of SLE varies between countries from 20 to 70 per 100,000.[2] Women of childbearing age are affected about nine times more often than men.[4] While it most commonly begins between the ages of 15 and 45, a wide range of ages can be affected.[1][2] Those of African, Caribbean, and Chinese descent are at higher risk than white people.[4][2] Rates of disease in the developing world are unclear.[6] Lupus is Latin for "wolf": the disease was so-named in the 13th century as the rash was thought to appear like a wolf's bite.[7]
A substance that blocks a type of enzyme called a kinase. Human cells have many different kinases, and they help control important functions, such as cell signaling, metabolism, division, and survival. Certain kinases are more active in some types of cancer cells and blocking them may help keep the cancer cells from growing. Kinase inhibitors may also block the growth of new blood vessels that tumors need to grow.
Painless passage of blood or protein in the urine may often be the only presenting sign of kidney involvement. Acute or chronic renal impairment may develop with lupus nephritis, leading to acute or end-stage kidney failure. Because of early recognition and management of SLE, end-stage renal failure occurs in less than 5%[27][28] of cases; except in the black population, where the risk is many times higher.

Approximately 20% of people with SLE have clinically significant levels of antiphospholipid antibodies, which are associated with antiphospholipid syndrome.[90] Antiphospholipid syndrome is also related to the onset of neural lupus symptoms in the brain. In this form of the disease the cause is very different from lupus: thromboses (blood clots or "sticky blood") form in blood vessels, which prove to be fatal if they move within the blood stream.[79] If the thromboses migrate to the brain, they can potentially cause a stroke by blocking the blood supply to the brain.


The following drugs are commonly used to treat the inflammation and symptoms of lupus. Since lupus manifests in different ways in different people, treatment regimens differ from patient to patient. In addition, one patient may experience several different treatment regimens during her/his lifetime. It is important that you understand the medications you are taking and the risks, benefits, and restrictions associated with them. Please remember to take your medications exactly as directed by your physician and to address any questions or concerns upon your next visit.

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Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.

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