Lupus: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment


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What is lupus?

Lupus, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus, is a chronic autoimmune disease which can affect many body parts, including the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels, or brain. When lupus occurs, the immune system of the body malfunctions, meaning, though it is responsible for fighting off viruses, bacteria, and germs and protecting the body, it suddenly starts to attack your body’s healthy tissues. In this disease, the immune system becomes overactive as opposed to the condition of HIV when it becomes underactive. This condition can range from mild to life-threatening.

How does lupus occur?

The immune system in our bodies is responsible for producing antibodies that fight against antigens (intruders that sneak into our bodies to cause harm) and protect the body against any infections. Lupus occurs when the immune system of the body malfunctions and is unable to differentiate between antigens and healthy tissue. In this condition, the immune system in fact directs antibodies against the healthy tissue in our bodies, along with the antigens, causing swelling, pain, and tissue damage.

There are various types of lupus such as:

  • Lupus nephritis: is inflammation of the kidney that is caused by systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
  • Neonatal lupus: which affects newborn babies.
  • Subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus: which causes skin sores on areas of the body exposed to the sun.
  • Discoid lupus erythematosus: which causes a skin rash that doesn't easily disappear.
  • Drug-induced lupus: which can be caused by certain medicines.

Who is prone to lupus?

The chances of developing lupus are higher in people who:

  • are women
  • are of black ancestry
  • are between the ages of 15 and 45
  • have a family history of lupus
  • take medicines that are associated with drug-induced systemic lupus

What are the causes of lupus?

The cause of lupus in most cases, is as yet unknown. A few potential triggers include:

  • Genetics: A family history of lupus may make you more susceptible to this disease.
  • Infections: Contracting an infection can initiate lupus or cause a relapse.
  • Sunlight:  Exposure to sunlight can trigger a response in susceptible people. Skin lesions may appear.
  • Hormones: Both men and women produce estrogen, however, its production is much greater in females. Many women experience symptoms of lupus before menstrual periods and/or during pregnancy when estrogen production is high. This may indicate that estrogen somehow regulates the severity of lupus, however, researchers have not yet found any connection between estrogen, or any other hormone, and lupus.
  • Medications:  Certain medicines such as anti-seizure medications and antibiotics, can cause lupus can be triggered by certain types of blood pressure medications. These patients usually get better after they stop taking the medicines.

What are the symptoms of lupus? How is lupus diagnosed?

The most common symptoms of lupus include:

  • fatigue and fever
  • joint pain, stiffness and swelling
  • butterfly-shaped rash on the face that covers the cheeks and bridge of the nose
  • skin lesions that occur due to exposure to the sun
  • fingers and toes that turn white or blue when exposed to cold or during stressful periods
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • dry eyes
  • headaches
  • confusion
  • memory loss


Lupus can produce different and often confusing symptoms in the body, so it may take some time for a physician to diagnose it. In fact, this disease is known as 'the great imitator' as its symptoms mimic many other illnesses.
Usually, a general physician can diagnose lupus. Depending on the severity of your condition he may refer you to other specialists such as a dermatologist, cardiologist, nephrologist, neurologist, gastroenterologist, pulmonologist, or a perinatologist.

For diagnosing lupus your doctor will look for your current symptoms such as pain, heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function at a particular place in the body. He will also enquire about your complete medical history, and if you have a family history of lupus.

There is no single diagnostic test for systemic lupus, however, the test usually suggested by doctors for lupus is called the antinuclear antibody (ANA) test. This is not a test specifically for lupus, but this test along with many other laboratory tests can build up a picture providing more information to your doctor and finally confirm if it is lupus.
Other tests include:

  • blood test (for complete blood count)
  • kidney and liver assessment
  • urinalysis
  • chest X-Ray
  • echocardiogram
  • skin biopsy

What are the complications of lupus?

Some major complications of lupus include:

  • anemia
  • risk of bleeding or blood clotting
  • inflammation of blood vessels
  • kidney damage or kidney failure
  • inflammation of chest cavity lining (pleurisy)
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • behaviour changes
  • hallucinations
  • strokes or seizures.
  • inflammation of the heart muscle
  • increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and heart attacks

What is the treatment of lupus?

Medical Treatment for Lupus

Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor may prescribe medicines to suppress the immune system, reduce inflammation, and treat pain, swelling and fever associated with lupus.


Research shows that lupus patients who exercise build stronger muscles, prevent joint stiffness, control fatigue, and avoid weight gain.
Before deciding on an exercise regimen, make sure to consult your doctor to find out what type of exercises suit you the best since some movements can be harmful if you have swollen joints or muscle pain.

Some exercises that you can consider are yoga, pilates, Tai Chi, dancing, swimming, and bicycling. 

Would you like to consult a doctor for Lupus ?

Patient Experiences

Treatment For Lupus
Dr.Dharmanand is more than a just a doc to me.... The way he thinks, analysis and calms you down is commendable. He listens to me intently and also answers all my queries. Its been 3yrs now that iam being treated by him and I must say iam in extremely good hands.....With him, my journey of lupus has gotten very easy and manageable. Thank you Dr. Dharmanand! ...Read Less
Doctor in this story :Dr. B.G. Dharmanand
Sakra World Hospital

Questions answered by trusted doctors

Verified User
What's the meaning of lupus disease?
What is the remedy for this disease?
He had a problem of joint problem since a year. And now reveal that he had lupus
Dr. Miten Sheth
Orthopedist, Mumbai
U can visit a Rheumatologist and discuss details. Lupus can affects joints as well. Treatment will be managed by both your rheumatologist and Orthopedic surgeon together.
Verified User
Got concieved naturally 4times followed by miscarriage after 2months due to lupus. 3times ivf was done again got miscarriages after 2months inspite of takin heparin, vit e, folic,susten. Want to know if there is any ayurvedic treament for lupus
Dr. Harsha
General Physician, Bangalore
Hi there...lupus has its own line of management ranging from simple corticosteroids to hydroxycholoquin to immunosuppressive like cyclosporine azathioprine mmf. Since you are trying to conceive there are limited options for the treatment. Also you age should also be considered. But now days studies have shown even hydroxycholoquine is safe in pregnancy. But it is upto your obstetrician and dermatologist to decide. So kindly consult both a dermatologist and obstetrician with all your reports. I am sure they will be able to help you further. But you must keep in mind that patients suffering from lupus are prone for miscarriages.
Verified User
Hi, been to doctors and been told I have a positive ANA titer of 1:640 speckled pattern. The doctor told me that was low and not to worry, However since I have found out it is quite high. I have Raynauds and my legs go purple. My glands are always swollen and lately whenever I move quickly my arms go numb and tingly and they feel stiff. I’ve also broken many bones easily. Such as falling over. I’m worried about lupus and wondering if this fits.
Dr. Yogesh Kumar Sehrawat
Consultant Physician, Delhi
Hello dear patient, following are the symptoms of lupus, sle if 4 out of 11 are present..

Constitutional (eg, fatigue, fever, arthralgia, weight changes)

Musculoskeletal (eg, arthralgia, arthropathy, myalgia, frank arthritis, avascular necrosis)

Dermatologic (eg, malar rash, photosensitivity, discoid lupus)

Renal (eg, acute or chronic renal failure, acute nephritic disease)

Neuropsychiatric (eg, seizure, psychosis)

Pulmonary (eg, pleurisy, pleural effusion, pneumonitis, pulmonary hypertension, interstitial lung disease)

Gastrointestinal (eg, nausea, dyspepsia, abdominal pain)

Cardiac (eg, pericarditis, myocarditis)

Hematologic (eg, cytopenias such as leukopenia, lymphopenia, anemia, or thrombocytopenia)

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Did you know?

Lupus patients in India

Roughly 3 out of every one lakh people in India suffer from lupus.

Difficult to diagnose

Lupus is very difficult to diagnose and treat, and is more often than not, diagnosed with great delay. It is a non-contagious chronic disease.

More common in women

Lupus is five times more common in women than men. More than 90% of people with lupus are women between the ages of 15 and 45.

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Home Remedies

Take Turmeric

Use turmeric in your daily diet. You can also mix half a teaspoon of turmeric in milk and drink every night before going to sleep.

Include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids in your diet

Some foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are, cold-water fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna and herring, ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. You can also consider taking fish oil supplements after consulting your doctor.

Take Probiotics

Eat cultured and fermented foods like yogurt with live cultures, acidophilus milk, kefir, miso, tempeh and sauerkraut as they are rich in probiotics.

Eat foods rich in vitamin D

Some foods rich in Vitamin D include, fortified milk and cereals, salmon and other fatty fish, cheese, egg yolks, mushrooms and tofu. You can consider taking vitamin D3 supplements after consulting with your doctor.

Take apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar helps in increasing the production of hydrochloric acid in the body. It also aids detoxification and improves nutrient absorption. Add 2 teaspoons of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar to a glass of warm water and drink it early in the morning on empty stomach.

Epsom Salt

Before taking a bath, simply add 1 to 2 cups of Epsom salt in your bath and soak your entire body or affected joint, for at least 30 minutes. Epsom salt is known to relax muscles, aches and pains. The presence of magnesium in epsom salts which is an alkaline mineral helps to treat gout. Please Note: Epsom salt baths may not be suitable for those suffering from kidney problems or diabetes.