About Lupus

Article • May 29, 2019

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease in which the human immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks healthy tissues.

What is lupus?

Lupus has been called the "disease of many faces."

It is a complex, often confusing, chronic autoimmune disorder that causes the body to harm its own healthy cells and tissues. This leads to inflammation and damage of various body tissues, including the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels, and brain.

Although 'lupus' is a broad term, it usually refers to SLE, or Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Other types of lupus include discoid, drug-induced, and neonatal.

What causes lupus?

The exact cause of lupus is unknown and, at present, there is no cure. Lupus can be fatal.

Who gets lupus?

Lupus affects approximately 1 in 2000 Canadians. Although anyone can be diagnosed with lupus, it is most commonly diagnosed in women of child-bearing age.

Lupus is not contagious or infectious, but it can develop in more than one member of a family.

What are the symptoms?

People living with lupus may have many different symptoms. The most common are extreme fatigue, painful or swollen joints (arthritis), unexplained fever, skin rashes or lesions, an unusual reaction to sunlight, swelling of the feet and legs, and chest pains when laying down or taking deep breaths.

Lupus patients may also develop ulcers in the eyes, nose, mouth or vagina, and Sjögren's Syndrome (dry eyes). Gastrointestinal symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and weight changes.

For some patients, more serious disease can involve the internal organs and the brain.

The heart and lungs may be affected. Pericarditis, myocarditis, pleuritis, endocarditis, and pneumonitis can develop. If a patient develops lupus nephritis (lupus of the kidney), they may be at risk of edema, hypertension, proteinurea, cell casts, and renal failure.

Blood disorders can include anemia, immune complexes, thrombocytopenia, circulating autoantibodies, as well as leukopenia and thrombosis.

Lupus can also cause complications in pregnancy, miscarriages, and menstrual irregularities.

Finally, if lupus attacks the central and peripheral nervous system, it may result in seizures, psychosis, neuropathies, cognitive dysfunction, and depression. Many lupus patients also experience an on-going low-grade fever.

Living with lupus

For most people, lupus may be characterized by periods of disease activity (flares) and periods of fewer symptoms. Developing strategies to prevent flares can be helpful, such as limiting exposure to sunlight and scheduling adequate rest and quiet time. Reduction of stressful situations is also important. Lupus flares are treated with medications, rest, and lifestyle changes.


Please contact the Lupus Society of Alberta if you have any questions or are in need of support.