Lupus

Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus) is a long-term condition that causes joint pain, skin rashes and tiredness. There's no cure, but symptoms can improve if treatment starts early.

Check if you have lupus

There are lots of possible symptoms of lupus.

The main symptoms include:

You might also have:

Symptom flare-ups

Lupus often flares up (relapses) and symptoms become worse for a few weeks, sometimes longer.

Symptoms then settle down (remission). The reason why symptoms flare up or settle down is not known.

Some people do not notice any difference and their symptoms are constant.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • you often get symptoms of lupus

Lupus is better managed if it's found and treated early.

Tests for lupus

Lupus is not always easy to diagnose because the symptoms can be similar to other conditions.

A GP will usually do some blood tests. They may diagnose lupus if the tests show you have high levels of a certain type of antibody, and you also have the typical symptoms of lupus.

You might be referred for X-rays and scans of your heart, kidneys and other organs if the doctor thinks they might be affected.

If lupus is confirmed, you'll be advised to have regular checks and tests, such as blood tests to check for anaemia and urine tests to check for kidney problems.

Lupus can range from mild to severe
Severity How it affects the body

Mild

Joint and skin problems, tiredness

Moderate

Inflammation of other parts of the skin and body, including your lungs, heart and kidneys

Severe

Inflammation causing severe damage to the heart, lungs, brain or kidneys, which can be life- threatening

Treatment for lupus

Treatment you may have for lupus includes:

Immunosuppressant or biological medicines are sometimes used to treat severe lupus. They help to calm or control your body's immune system.

Things you can do if you have lupus

Although medicines are important in controlling lupus, you can help manage your symptoms and reduce the risk of it getting worse.

Do

  • use high-factor (at least factor 50) sunscreen and wear a hat in the sun – you can get sunscreen on prescription if you have lupus

  • learn to pace yourself to avoid getting too tired

  • try to stay active, even on a bad day

  • try relaxation techniques to manage stress – stress can make symptoms worse

  • tell your employer about your condition – you might be able to adjust your working pattern

  • ask for help from family, friends and health professionals

  • eat a healthy, balanced diet, including vitamin D and calcium

Don’t

  • do not smoke – smoking makes lupus worse so it's important to stop smoking

  • do not sit in direct sunlight or spend a lot of time in rooms with fluorescent lights

Information:

Help and support

Causes of lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune condition. This means the body's natural defence system (immune system) attacks healthy parts of your body.

It's not contagious.

The causes of lupus are not fully understood. Possible causes include:

More women than men get lupus, and it's more common in women with an African, Caribbean, Asian or Chinese background.

Lupus in pregnancy

Lupus can cause complications in pregnancy.

See a doctor before trying to get pregnant. They can discuss the risks and check if your medicine needs to be changed.

Page last reviewed: 19 July 2023
Next review due: 19 July 2026