The severity of lupus varies from mild to life threatening. Kidney problems and neurologic complications are more dangerous than the rashes, arthritis or other symptoms. After many years of having lupus, patients may develop hypertension (high blood pressure), accelerated atherosclerosis (plaque and fat build-up in the arteries), heart and lung diseases, kidney failure or osteoporosis. With proper treatment, the majority of people diagnosed with lupus have a normal life expectancy, but many will experience disabilities. Each patient will likely have his or her own specific pattern of symptoms and flares, but the disease can change over time.
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).

People with lupus are at great risk of contracting kidney disease. Kidney failure occurs in a minority of patients with lupus nephritis, despite advances in therapy. These patients must undergo dialysis. About one-third of patients who start dialysis during an acute lupus flare will be able to discontinue it within the first year. The remaining two-thirds, and those suffering gradual deterioration of kidney function over several years will require either continual dialysis for life or a kidney transplant.


The 19th century's research into lupus continued with the work of Sir William Osler who, in 1895, published the first of his three papers about the internal complications of erythema exudativum multiforme. Not all the patient cases in his paper had SLE but Osler's work expanded the knowledge of systemic diseases and documented extensive and critical visceral complications for several diseases including lupus.[110] Noting that many people with lupus had a disease that not only affected the skin but many other organs in the body as well, Osler added the word "systemic" to the term lupus erythematosus to distinguish this type of disease from discoid lupus erythematosus.[114] Osler's second paper noted that reoccurrence is a special feature of the disease and that attacks can be sustained for months or even years. Further study of the disease led to a third paper, published in 1903, documenting afflictions such as arthritis, pneumonia, the inability to form coherent ideas, delirium, and central nervous system damage as all affecting patients diagnosed with SLE.[110]
The most serious health risks are cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and stroke. Specifically, people with lupus are at increased risk for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). In some people, inflammation can occur in the heart itself (myocarditis and endocarditis) or the membrane that surrounds it. Endocarditis can damage heart valves, which can result in heart murmurs. When the disease affects the kidneys, patients generally require intensive drug treatment to prevent permanent damage. Lupus also may attack the brain or central nervous system, which can cause seizures or stroke.

The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) established eleven criteria in 1982,[73] which were revised in 1997[74] as a classificatory instrument to operationalise the definition of SLE in clinical trials. They were not intended to be used to diagnose individuals and do not do well in that capacity. For the purpose of identifying people for clinical studies, a person has SLE if any 4 out of 11 symptoms are present simultaneously or serially on two separate occasions.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as naproxen sodium (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), may be used to treat pain, swelling and fever associated with lupus. Stronger NSAIDs are available by prescription. Side effects of NSAIDs include stomach bleeding, kidney problems and an increased risk of heart problems.

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