What Is Lupus?

Lupus is a chronic (long-lasting) disease that damages different organs, including the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, and brain. The damage happens because the germ-fighting immune system attacks the body's own cells. This is called autoimmunity.

Medicine can help with symptoms and lower the risk of flare-ups (times when symptoms get worse).

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Lupus?

Signs and symptoms of lupus (LOOP-iss) can vary from person to person, but may include:

  • rash on the face or body
  • sensitivity to sunlight
  • extreme tiredness
  • fever
  • joint pain
  • Raynaud's syndrome
  • muscle aches
  • weight loss
  • sores in the nose, mouth, or throat
  • swollen glands
  • bald patches and hair loss
  • low red blood cell count (anemia)
  • infections
  • inflammation of the lining around the heart, belly, or lungs
  • seizures or other neurological problems
  • kidney problems

Most people with lupus are women in their late teens to forties. Less often, children (usually girls) can have it.

What Are the Types of Lupus?

There are three kinds of lupus:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common kind of lupus. It can affect many organs in the body.
  • Cutaneous (or skin) lupus usually affects only the skin with rashes on the scalp, legs, or arms.
  • Drug-induced lupus happens as a reaction to some medicines. Symptoms usually go away when a person stops taking the medicine.

What Causes Lupus?

People can develop lupus for one or more of these reasons:

  • Some people may have a genetic tendency to get lupus.
  • It may be triggered by an infection, medicine, or extreme physical or emotional stress.
  • The female hormone estrogen may play a role, which could explain why lupus is more common in women.

How Is Lupus Diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose lupus by asking about symptoms and doing an exam. They'll also do blood tests to look for:

  • anemia and other blood problems
  • proteins such as antinuclear antibodies (ANA), which are present in many people with lupus

Diagnosing lupus can be hard because it can affect almost any organ in the body, and symptoms vary widely from patient to patient.

How Is Lupus Treated?

Treatment for lupus depends on the organs involved. There is no cure for it, but treatment can help control symptoms. Often, a patient with lupus has a health care team with specialists such as:

  • a rheumatologist (for problems with the joints and connective tissues)
  • a nephrologist (for kidney problems)
  • an infectious disease specialist (to help treat infections)
  • a dermatologist (for skin problems)
  • a social worker (to help with coordinating care)
  • a psychologist (to help kids and their families cope with lupus)

Medicines can help lower the risk of flare-ups and improve symptoms. Someone with lupus may take:

  • corticosteroids to control inflammation
  • immunosuppressive drugs to lower the body's immune response
  • antimalarial drugs to help treat skin rashes and joint pain
  • acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, for joint and muscle pain

Doctors may also recommend that people with lupus:

  • Avoid the sun as much as possible and wear sunscreen and protective clothing when outside to help reduce the number of flare-ups.
  • Get regular exercise to help with tiredness and joint stiffness.

How Can Parents Help?

Lupus is a chronic disease, but treatments can help with symptoms and lower the risk of flare-ups. New and better tools to diagnose and treat lupus have improved the lives of those living with the disease.

To help your child manage:

  • Go to all doctor visits and follow the care team's instructions.
  • Learn what symptoms mean a flare-up may be coming. Calling the doctor right away and starting medicines may stop the flare-up or make it less severe.
  • Talk to school staff to help them understand what your child needs.

It also helps to learn all you can about lupus with your child. The care team is a great resource. You also can find information and support online at:

Back to Articles

Related Articles

Immune System

The immune system is made up of special cells, proteins, tissues, and organs that defend people against germs and microorganisms.

Read More

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complicated disease for doctors to diagnose — and even fully understand. Find out more about this often misunderstood condition.

Read More


Lupus is a disease that affects the immune system. Learn how lupus is treated, signs and symptoms, how to support a friend who has it, and more.

Read More

Immune System

The immune system, composed of special cells, proteins, tissues, and organs that protect against germs and microorganisms, is the body's defense against disease.

Read More

Raynaud's Syndrome

Raynaud's syndrome makes a person's fingers or toes temporarily feel cold, numb, tingly, or painful.

Read More


Anemia happens when there aren't enough healthy red blood cells in the body. It can be caused by many things, including dietary problems, medical treatments, and inherited conditions.

Read More

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complicated disease. It's a physical condition that also can also affect a person emotionally.

Read More

Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis

In juvenile idiopathic arthritis (also called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis)), a person can develop swollen, warm, and painful joints. Learn more.

Read More

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease can affect the skin, joints, nervous system, and other organ systems. If Lyme disease is diagnosed quickly and treated with antibiotics, most people feel better quickly.

Read More

Bones, Muscles, and Joints

Without bones, muscles, and joints, we couldn't stand, walk, run, or even sit. The musculoskeletal system supports our bodies, protects our organs from injury, and enables movement.

Read More

Blood Test: Hemoglobin

Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells. A hemoglobin test can be done as part of a routine checkup to screen for problems and or because a child isn't feeling well.

Read More

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.