Preventive Health Care

Lupus: When Your Body Attacks Itself

The body’s immune system is designed to protect the body from infection and other diseases. Sometimes, in rare cases, the immune system is the body’s worst enemy. It’s called lupus.

In May — Lupus Awareness Month — the lupus community works to raise awareness of this chronic condition which affects about 1.5 million Americans. Nearly 90% of those diagnosed are women and the majority of those are African American.

It can be a painful but rarely is it fatal. People with lupus can live a normal lifespan with proper medical care, but so far, there is no cure, it is hard to diagnose, and there is little understanding of its cause.

Lowdown on Lupus

Lupus is a disorder that affects a person’s immune system. It is like rheumatoid arthritis in that way. It affects the joints, but it also affects blood cells, the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, and the skin.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common type of lupus and affects many parts of the body. Other types of lupus include:

  • Cutaneous lupus Causes a rash or lesions when exposed to sunlight
  • Drug-induced lupus — Caused by an overreaction to certain medicines but stops when medication is discontinued
  • Neonatal lupus — Inherited by a mother with SLE and usually resolves within six months. It can lead to a heart block requiring a pacemaker.

Lupus Symptoms

Lupus affects everyone differently depending on which body systems are attacked. The symptoms can come on suddenly or develop slowly.

Symptoms are mild for most people with lupus, but they can have “flares” where symptoms get worse for a while.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Dry eyes
  • Facial rash covering the nose and cheeks
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Memory loss
  • Shortness of breath
  • Skin lesions that get worse with sunlight
Girl With Headaches


While lupus is rarely deadly, fatality has much to do with the parts of the body affected.

  • KidneysLupus in the kidneys can cause serious damage resulting in kidney failure. It is the leading cause of death in lupus patients.
  • Brain and nervous systemThis can lead to dizziness, headaches, behavior changes, seizures, or strokes.
  • Blood and blood vesselsComplications could include anemia and a greater risk of bleeding or blood clots.
  • Lungs Breathing becomes difficult if the chest cavity lining swells. It can also lead to bleeding into the lungs and pneumonia.
  • Heart Cardiovascular disease and heart attacks become more likely with inflammation of the heart muscles or arteries.

Other complications include:

  • Infection from the disease and treatments which sometimes weaken the immune system.
  • Cancer risk is increased, though the risk is small.
  • Dead bone tissue which happens when the blood supply to bone declines.
  • Miscarriage potential increases for pregnant women who also face the prospect of high blood pressure.
Sr Getting his Treatment


People with lupus can expect a normal lifespan if the condition does not affect their organs. It is vital they follow the instructions of their physician. This includes taking their medications as prescribed. They must also get help for any unexpected side effects from their medication.

Find Help at AltaMed

Talk to your doctor sooner, rather than later, if you have any of the symptoms mentioned in this blog. Your doctor can suggest treatments to help you cope with the condition. If you don’t already have a doctor, find your nearest AltaMed location and give them a call.

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Lupus: When Your Body Attacks Itself