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The lowdown on lupus

Written By: Kim Kham, UT Physicians | Updated: May 31, 2023
Purple ribbon indicating that May is lupus awareness month.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can cause a devastating effect on many parts of a person’s body. This chronic condition occurs when the immune system, which normally protects the body, attacks itself causing inflammation and, potentially, permanent tissue damage. The result can be widespread – affecting the skin, joints, heart, lungs, brain, and more.

“Systemic lupus erythematosus, or lupus for short, can affect the body in a variety of ways, so it’s important to have a baseline awareness in case you notice concerning symptoms in yourself, family, or loved ones,” said Meera Subash, MD, rheumatologist with UT Physicians and assistant professor with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.

Who can get lupus?

Although anyone can be diagnosed with lupus, women are about nine times more likely to be affected by it than men. Lupus usually affects people between the ages of 15 and 45 but it can also occur earlier or later in life as well.

Lupus is also more prominent with African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American women.

What causes lupus?

The exact cause is unknown but experts attribute it to factors such as hormonal changes, family health history, and other factors like smoking, stress, or complications from other diseases.

What are the symptoms of lupus?

No two cases of lupus are alike so it can be difficult to narrow down. Signs and symptoms of lupus will vary based on the area of the body it affects. However, the most common signs of lupus are:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Rashes or skin lesions
  • Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry eyes
  • Hair loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Change of color in fingers and toes (blue, white, or purple) from cold and stress

When should you see a doctor?

See your doctor if you have an unexplained rash, ongoing fever, persistent fatigue, or aching.

“Patients should let their doctors know of any new symptoms that they may experience. Primary care physicians will recommend a rheumatologist based on the symptoms or signs that they may have, and if there is a family history of lupus, along with a combination of tests,” said Manjari Devidi, MD, rheumatologist with UT Physicians and assistant professor with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. “Some of these symptoms could be a rash that develops with sun exposure, unexplained fevers, or painful swollen joints.”

What treatments are available for lupus?

While there is no cure for lupus, there are many medications to treat the symptoms of this chronic condition. The ultimate goal is to prevent and limit flare-ups, manage symptoms, prevent or slow organ damage, and improve quality of life.

It’s recommended that patients continue to see their doctor regularly and maintain regular communication to ensure the disease can be monitored. Medications or treatments should not be stopped without consulting a doctor.

About the Lupus Program

The Lupus Program provides patient-driven, advanced care for patients affected by systemic lupus erythematosus. Our rheumatologists are board certified and are leaders in their field. We work with a large network of providers within dermatology, nephrology, pulmonology, and pediatric rheumatology to assist in the treatment of conditions resulting from lupus.

“We believe in a multidisciplinary team approach and work with a wide spectrum of health care professionals who are committed to providing patient-centered and coordinated care for patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. This allows better care for patients with complex medical needs, based on their condition and disease complexity,” Devidi said.

A visit starts with a comprehensive lupus evaluation, which includes a review of your medical history, an exam, and other diagnostic tests. A rheumatologist will discuss your diagnosis, your risks, diet and lifestyle, and treatment options that best fits your needs.

The Lupus Program work with hundreds of patients throughout their lifetime in order to provide compassionate, high-quality care for this complex disease. The program accepts patient referrals from physicians across the nation.

Appointments can be scheduled by calling 713-486-3100. The Lupus Program is located within UT Physicians Center for Autoimmunity at 6410 Fannin St., Suite 450, Houston, TX 77030.

Related Specialties

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.