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What are the Different Types of Lupus?

Learn about the most common and less common forms of this autoimmune disease.

What are the Different Types of Lupus?

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease. When the immune system is functioning normally, it creates antibodies that attack foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, and parasites. When a person has lupus, the immune system creates antibodies that attack and destroy healthy cells and tissues.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
There are several different types of lupus. Also known as systemic lupus, SLE is the most common form of the disease and is what most people are referring to when they use the term lupus. It is also the most serious type of lupus.

SLE can affect any part of the body, and can cause damage to the joints, skin, blood vessels, nervous system, and organs like the heart, lungs, and kidneys. As a result, it can cause a wide variety of symptoms. These symptoms may include joint pain, swelling, fatigue, weight loss, muscle weakness and pain, and skin rashes. One of the most telling symptoms of lupus is a butterfly-shaped rash on the face. Symptoms will vary from person to person, will vary in severity, and can appear suddenly or gradually.

Cutaneous lupus
This type refers to lupus that impacts the skin, causing a red or scaly rash, often on areas of the body that are exposed to the sun, such as the face and scalp. Lesions are often round in shape. Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) is the chronic form of cutaneous lupus. While this type does not affect the joints or organs the way SLE does, people who have DLE may develop SLE.

Drug-induced lupus
As the name implies, this type of lupus is caused by a reaction to a medication. Certain medications used in the treatment of high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and tuberculosis are associated with drug-induced lupus. The symptoms are similar to those of SLE. However, drug-induced lupus does not damage organs or blood vessels the way SLE can. In most cases, symptoms are mild and will resolve if the medication that triggered lupus is discontinued.

While SLE and cutaneous lupus are much more common in women, drug-induced lupus is more common in men. This is due to the fact that the medications most commonly associated with drug-induced lupus are more often prescribed to men.

Neonatal lupus
Neonatal lupus is different from the other forms of lupus described above. It gets its name because the most common symptom is a rash similar to the rash seen in SLE and cutaneous lupus. It is caused when certain antibodies are passed from the mother to the infant during pregnancy, and usually resolves within the first 6 to 8 months of life as the antibodies are cleared from the infant’s system. In most cases, people who are born with neonatal lupus will not develop a chronic form of lupus. Neonatal lupus is rare, and while it can cause problems with the heart, liver, and blood, serious complications are rare.

Treatment
People with lupus should work with a rheumatologist, a healthcare provider who specializes in the treatment of musculoskeletal disease and autoimmune disease. Treatment for neonatal lupus will be overseen by healthcare providers that specialize in pediatric care. No two cases of lupus are exactly alike, and treatment is individualized—a treatment plan will depend on the type of lupus a person has, as well as their symptoms and the severity of their symptoms.

While there is no cure for lupus, there are lifestyle strategies and medications that can help reduce disease activity, control symptoms, and minimize the damage caused by lupus.

Medically reviewed in January 2021.

Sources:
MedlinePlus. "Lupus."
American Academy of Family Physicians. "Patient Education: Lupus."
Lupus Foundation of America. "What is lupus?
MedlinePlus. "Systemic lupus erythematosus."
Elsevier Patient Education. "Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Adult."
DermNet NZ. "Discoid lupus erythematosus."
Lupus Foundation of America. "What is cutaneous lupus?
Mahdis Solhjoo, Pankaj Bansal, Amandeep Goyal and Krati Chauhan. "Drug-Induced Lupus Erythematosus." StatPearls Publishing, 2020.
Ye Hea and Amr H. Sawalha. "Drug-induced lupus erythematosus: an update on drugs and mechanisms." Current Opinion in Rheumatology, 2018. Vol. 30, No. 5.

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