Lupus is a chronic, non-contagious autoimmune disease with a variety of symptoms caused by inflammation in one or more parts of the body. ‘Autoimmune’ means the immune system cannot tell the difference between foreign germs, viruses, and bacteria and the body’s healthy tissue. If you have lupus, your immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues by mistake. This can damage your skin, joints, blood vessels, and organs.
Because lupus can affect so many different organs, a wide range of symptoms can occur. These symptoms may come and go, and different symptoms may appear at different times during the course of the disease.
Common signs and symptoms of lupus include:
There are generally four recognized forms or types of lupus: Cutaneous (skin) Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Drug-induced Lupus Erythematosus and Neonatal Lupus.
Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus (CLE)
Cutaneous refers to the skin, and this form of lupus is limited to the skin. Although there are many types of rashes and lesions caused by cutaneous lupus, the most common rash is raised, scaly, and red, but not itchy. It is commonly known as Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE), because the areas of rash are shaped like disks or circles.
Another common example of cutaneous lupus is Subacute Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus (SCLE). People with SCLE typically have red, inflamed, non-scarring sores and are sensitive to sunlight or fluorescent light.
Approximately 10% of people who have CLE will develop systemic lupus. However, it is likely that these people already had systemic lupus, with the skin rash as their main symptom.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
This is the most common and serious form of lupus. It is a treatable, chronic, autoimmune, inflammatory disease that can affect any organ in the body and in a pattern that varies greatly from person to person.
Some of the more serious complications involving major organ systems include: kidney inflammation (which can affect the body’s ability to filter waste from the blood); increased blood pressure in the lungs; inflammation of the brain and nervous system (which can lead to memory problems, confusion, headaches, and strokes); inflammation in the brain’s blood vessels (may cause high fevers, seizures, or behavioral changes); and hardening of the arteries (can lead to a heart attack).
Drug-Induced Lupus Erythematosus
Drug-induced lupus is triggered by certain drugs. Only a small number of people taking these drugs develop this form of lupus, which shares many symptoms with systemic lupus. The most important feature of drug-induced lupus is that it goes away within six months of the offending drug being stopped.
This is a rare form of lupus that affects the newborn child. This most often occurs in the children of women with SCLE or systemic lupus who also have a particular antibody (molecule that recognizes other molecules that are foreign to the body) in their bloodstream. Skin rashes that come and go and a decrease in some of the blood cells may occur but these problems go away within six months after birth.