Lupus is a disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks your tissues and organs (autoimmune disease). The inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different body systems — including the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs.
Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because its signs and symptoms often mimic those of other diseases. The most characteristic sign of lupus—a facial rash that looks like butterfly wings unfolding across the cheeks—occurs in many, but not all, cases of lupus.
Some people are born with a tendency to develop lupus, which may be caused by infections, certain medications, or even sunlight. While there is no cure for lupus, treatments can help control symptoms.
No two cases of lupus are exactly alike. Signs and symptoms may appear suddenly or develop slowly, they may be mild or severe, and they may be temporary or permanent. Most people with lupus have a mild illness characterized by episodes — called flares — when signs and symptoms get worse for a period of time, and then improve or go away completely for a time.
The signs and symptoms of lupus you experience depend on which body systems are affected. The most common signs and symptoms include:
Joint pain, stiffness and swelling
A butterfly-shaped rash on the face that covers the cheeks and bridge of the nose, or rashes elsewhere on the body
Skin lesions that appear or worsen with sun exposure
Fingers and toes turn white or blue when exposed to cold or during periods of stress
Shortness of breath
Headache, confusion, and memory loss