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Systemic Lupus Erythematosus FAQs

Reviewed by William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

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Q:Lupus is an infection. True or False?

A:False. Lupus is not infectious or cancerous. Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, blood, and kidneys. The immune system normally protects the body against viruses, bacteria, and other foreign material. In an autoimmune disease such as lupus, the immune system loses its ability to distinguish between foreign substances and the body's own tissues. The immune system then makes antibodies and cells directed against its own tissues.

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Q:Men are more affected by lupus than women. True or False?

A:False. In America, lupus affects about 1 out of every 185 people and strikes women 9 times more frequently than men.

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Q:Lupus is more prevalent that which other diseases?

A:Lupus is more prevalent than AIDS, sickle-cell anemia, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis combined. Research estimates that at least 1.5 million Americans have lupus.

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Q:What are some symptoms of lupus?

A:Sun-sensitive rash, hair loss, and fatigue. Symptoms of lupus maybe appear and disappear quickly and can imitate symptoms of many illnesses. Because of this, lupus can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms of lupus include joint and muscle pain, fatigue, a sun-sensitive rash, finger and toe sensitivity to cold (Raynaud's phenomenon), low-grade fevers, hair loss, appetite loss, and/or ulcers in the nose or mouth.

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Q:Medically speaking, what is a flare?

A:Symptoms of a chronic disease or condition are suddenly worse. A flare is an acute worsening of a chronic disease or condition. With lupus, flares may be triggered by a number of events; including stress, lack of rest, sunlight exposure, ultraviolet light exposure, specific medications, and/or cessation of lupus medications.

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Q:Unlike arthritis, there is only one form of lupus. True or False?

A:False. The term "lupus" generally refers to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). There are, however, other forms of lupus, including cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE); discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE); subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus; drug-induced lupus, and neonatal lupus

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Q:People do not die from lupus. True or False?

A:False. The disease from lupus ranges from mild to fatally severe. Extreme cases of lupus are responsible for thousands of deaths in America every year. To the credit of medical advances, earlier diagnoses, and improvement in treatments, lupus is usually not fatal, and the majority of patients with lupus can lead normal lives.

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Q:In lupus patients, what is wrong with the immune system?

A:The immune system is overactive. Lupus is an autoimmune disease caused by an overactive and misdirected immune system. This means that the body's misdirected immune system attacks its own healthy cells and tissues. A healthy immune system fights foreign bodies such as germs, bacteria, and viruses. As seen in autoimmune disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune thyroid disorders; the immune system literally attacks one's own body.

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Q:As seen in many patients with lupus, the hallmark "butterfly rash" appears where on the body?

A:Across the nose and cheeks. Also called the "malar rash," the "butterfly rash" typically seen in lupus appears across the nose and cheeks in a butterfly-shape. Without itching or pain, it is generally reddish. The rash is not scaly, and has sharp definition. Note: The "butterfly rash" is also seen with rosacea.

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