Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Tests For Lupus

Submitted on March 27, 2012

Lupus can be described as a severe long term inflammatory disease, which occurs when a person's immune system targets or attacks his or her own organs, tissues and cells. This results in an inflammation that could affect all the parts of the body, such as the joints, the kidneys, the lungs, heart, blood cells or even the skin. There are four different kinds of lupus that can be found in people, which include neonatal lupus, drug-induced lupus erythematosus, discoid lupus erythematosus and systemic lupus erythematosus. The most widespread and unfortunately the most grave form of lupus is systemic lupus erythematosus. For reasons that are not clear, lupus is more common in women than it is in men.

Health experts are still not sure about the causes of lupus in most cases. It has been seen that this condition is more common in adults, tough it can affect infants and children too. Moreover, the rate of lupus is much higher in Blacks, as compared to Whites, Hispanics and Asians.

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for lupus, which is why most people who suffer from this condition believe that their chances of a bright and happy future look grim. However, the diagnostic methods and treatment options for lupus have improved significantly in the last few years. With the right and timely treatment, people with lupus do have a chance of leading an active and fairly normal life.

If left untreated, this condition could lead to serious complications, which include kidney damage or failure, seizures, hallucinations, anemia, increased bleeding, heart problems, infections, cancer and bone tissue death. In pregnant women, lupus can increase the risks of miscarriage, preeclampsia, preterm birth and stillbirth. Therefore, women who are suffering from lupus are generally advised to undergo the right treatment and ensure that the disease is under control for at least a year, before getting pregnant.

Since lupus is such a serious disease, it is absolutely essential that it is monitored by a doctor at all times.

Tests Recommended

Diagnosing lupus can be a bit of a challenge, mainly because the signs and symptoms of the condition are varied. Moreover, the symptoms change over a period of time and may even disappear completely, for a while. This is why most doctors do not consider lupus tests, unless the possibility of other conditions has been ruled out. After studying your symptoms carefully for a while, your doctor may recommend blood tests or a urinalysis. Given below is a list of the recommended lupus tests:

  • Antinuclear antibody (ANA) test: The presence of certain antibodies in a person's blood could be an indication of a stimulated immune system, which usually happens in case of autoimmune diseases like lupus.
  • Chest X-ray: With the help of an imaging test, your doctor may check for abnormal shadows that indicate inflammation or fluid in the lungs.
  • Complete blood count: The number of platelets, red blood cells and white blood cells, as well as the count of hemoglobin in the blood can be determined with the help of a blood test. Lupus usually leads to a reduction in the platelet or white blood cell count.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): The pattern of electrical impulses generated in the heart is measured through this test. Any damage to the heart or irregular rhythms can be identified with the help of an Electrocardiogram.
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate: In this blood test, experts check for the speed at which the red blood cells settle at the bottom of a tube. A fast rate indicates the presence of a systemic disease.
  • Kidney and liver assessment: As lupus has an adverse impact on the kidneys and lungs, most doctors check their functioning, to confirm a diagnosis of the condition.
  • Syphilis test: The Syphilis test checks for the levels of antiphospholipid antibodies in the blood.


Lupus is an autoimmune disease, which means that it occurs in case your immune system starts attacking healthy cells and tissues in your body, for any reason. Doctors and researchers are still not sure what the exact lupus causes could be. However, it is believed that genetic factors, certain environmental factors or the use of certain medication could lead to the development of this condition.

You could suffer from this affliction, in case it runs in your family. Your chances of getting lupus are quite high if you have a family history of this disease, where a parent, sibling or any other close family member suffered from it.

Some of the environmental factors that could lead to lupus include:

  • Direct exposure to sunlight on a regular basis
  • Infection with the Epstein-Barr Virus
  • Occupational hazards, which include contact with certain chemicals, mercury and silica
  • Cigarette smoking or excess exposure to secondhand smoke

A few types of prescription medicines can trigger off lupus and its symptoms in people. Examples of drugs that have been linked with this condition include:

  • Intake of certain high blood pressure medicines.
  • Antipsychotic medicines.
  • Medications used for heart problems
  • Certain medications prescribed for tuberculosis


Lupus symptoms can vary significantly from one person to the other. In fact, health care providers claim that no two cases of lupus are the same. In some patients, lupus symptoms may be noticed suddenly, whereas in others the signs and symptoms may take a while to develop. There is no way to tell beforehand, if the symptoms in a particular instance are going to be permanent or temporary, mild or severe. Lupus patients could suffer from “flare-ups', where the signs and symptoms are at their worst. Once the flare-up passes, the symptoms may improve or even disappear completely, for a while.

The lupus symptoms experienced by a person depend completely on the system or the part of the body that has been affected by the disease. Given below are some of the most common symptoms of lupus:

  • Alopecia or hair loss
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Dryness in the eyes, accompanied by increased sensitivity to light
  • Easy bruising
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Heart problems
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Lesions that appear and get worse due to sun exposure
  • Loss of memory
  • Lung problems characterized by shortness of breath or pain in the chest
  • Mental health problems
  • Nervous system symptoms
  • Severe weight fluctuations, which could include loss or gain
  • Skin problems, like a butterfly-shaped rash, especially on the face
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Stiffness and swelling in the joints
  • Swollen glands

In case you happen to notice any of these symptoms, it is best to consult a doctor, without any delay. Some lupus symptoms are more severe than the others and require immediate medical attention. Seek emergency help in case you develop a rash for no apparent reason, suffer from ongoing fever, feel tired most of the time or experience a persistent ache.

Those who have already been diagnosed with lupus and are undergoing treatment for the condition should go in for regular checkups, so that the effectiveness of the treatment can be determined, by monitoring the symptoms. The development of any new symptom or worsening of an existing one should be brought to the doctor's attention immediately.


Lupus treatment can differ from one patient to the other, depending upon its severity and the symptoms. Some of the medication prescribed in lupus treatment includes:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen
  • Anti-malarial medication, such as hydroxychloroquine
  • Corticosteroids
  • Immunosuppressants (in case of aggressive lupus)

Researchers are still trying to investigate new forms of lupus treatment, though they do not guarantee a cure. Some of the clinical trials that are still being studies include stem cell transplant, Rituximab and Dehydroepiandrosterone.

In addition to the conventional treatment options, patients can improve their overall health by:

  • Getting an adequate amount of rest and exercise during the day.
  • Seeking protection from sun, in the form of sun-blocks and protective clothing.
  • Following a healthy diet at all times.
  • Quitting unhealthy practices like smoking and drinking alcohol.