What it is

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), often just called lupus, is:

  • An autoimmune disease. This means the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own healthy cells and tissues, leading to inflammation and damage in organs or systems.
  • A long-term (chronic) disease that affects many different parts of the body.

There are many signs and symptoms of lupus.

  • This can make it hard for doctors to diagnose.
  • Symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening.

There is no cure for lupus, but it can be treated.

  • The earlier you can diagnose lupus, the better you can treat and manage it.


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common type of lupus.


The causes of lupus are not known. But they may be linked to a person’s environment, family history (genetics), or hormonal factors.

Family History

If you have a close family member with lupus, your risk of getting it may be slightly higher than others.

  • Some people with lupus have relatives with lupus. But most people with lupus do not have family members who also have the disease.


Lupus can be hard to diagnose since its symptoms are often mistaken for symptoms of other diseases.

A rheumatologist can diagnose lupus.

  • A rheumatologist is a doctor who specializes in painful conditions affecting the body’s joints, muscles, or connective tissues—like lupus.

There is no one test for lupus. But your doctor will most likely:

  • Discuss your symptoms.
  • Do physical exams.
  • Take X-rays.
  • Run lab tests.

How to manage symptoms

Since lupus symptoms vary widely from person to person, how it’s managed depends on each person’s symptoms and needs.

To best manage your symptoms, it is important to:

  • See a doctor regularly.
  • Take medicines as prescribed.
  • Follow your treatment plan.

Staying Healthy

Making healthy choices and learning how to manage your care can help you have a healthier and better quality of life.

Making healthy choices

For example, people with lupus should:

  • Be physically active.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Avoid smoking cigarettes.
  • Use sunscreen and avoid too much sun.

Learning self-care skills

Self-management education can help people with lupus learn the skills needed to:

  • Manage daily life activities.
  • Take medications as prescribed.
  • Better communicate with doctors.
  • Take steps to improve energy.
  • Better manage pain.

Treatment and recovery

The goals of treatment are to:

  • Manage the symptoms you have.
  • Prevent future increases in symptoms (flares).
  • Stop or delay damage to joints and organs.
  • Reduce inflammation.

A team approach

A team of specialist may work together on your treatment. This approach is important because:

  • Lupus has many different symptoms.
  • People with lupus may have other autoimmune conditions as well.

The team of specialists may include:

  • Primary care providers.
  • Rheumatologists.
  • Pain management specialists.
  • Physical therapists.

Medications to treat lupus

The main treatment for lupus involves using medications that suppress the immune system. These may include:

  • Hydroxychloroquine, a medicine also used to treat malaria.
  • Corticosteroids (medicines that reduce inflammation and affect the body’s immune system), like prednisone.
  • Biologics (medicines made from living organisms), like belimumab and rituximab.

Things that worsen the effects of lupus

Certain things can worsen lupus, increasing flares and possibly a person’s risk of death.1

These things include:

  • Not having access to health care.
  • Getting diagnosed with lupus long after having it.
  • Not following a treatment plan.