Lupus, also called systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE, is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs.
Inflammation caused by lupus affects the joints and skin but it can also damage other internal systems such as kidneys, brain, blood, heart and lungs.
Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because its signs and symptoms often mimic those of other conditions. The most distinctive sign of lupus – a facial rash that looks like the wings of a butterfly unfolding across both cheeks – occurs in many but not all cases of lupus.
The most common symptoms of lupus are:
- joint pain and swelling, especially in the hands and feet
- skin rashes
- sores in the mouth or nose
- anaemia (low number of red blood cells).
Dry eyes and mouth, fevers, hair loss, headaches and depression may also occur. Many people with lupus experience ‘flares’ when symptoms are worse for a time.
What causes lupus is not known. Genetic factors and female hormones may play a part. Possible environmental triggers include infections, exposure to the sun, and stress.
About ten times more women than men get lupus, and it is usually first diagnosed in the child-bearing years. Lupus is three to four times more common in Māori and Pacific women and also more common in Asian women.
How can I manage my lupus?
There is no cure for lupus and the condition is unpredictable, varying from person to person. With a combination of medication, lifestyle changes, and support from a healthcare team, most people can manage it well.
These are similar to those used for other forms of inflammatory arthritis and include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), steroids, biologics and skin preparations.
Changes to your lifestyle can help minimise symptoms, reduce the likelihood of flares and improve your sense of wellbeing. Suggestions include:
- quit smoking
- protect yourself from the sun – use sunscreens to prevent skin rashes
- exercise regularly to prevent muscle weakness and fatigue
- rest and relaxation
- reduce stress
- eat a healthy, balanced diet
- seek support from family, friends, medical professionals, and support groups.
Where to get support from other people with lupus
Join our Facebook private group for people living with lupus:
Welcome to the lupus online support group. This group has been created by Arthritis New Zealand so that New Zealanders living with lupus can connect with one another, share stories, offer support, and ask questions. It will be monitored during office hours 8.30am – 5pm Monday to Friday, so please bear with us if there is a delay responding to your question.