Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack its own organs and tissues. “What is lupus” is a more difficult question than you might think to answer for both doctors and patients, since the symptoms tend to be vague and mimic other illnesses; however, inflammation always plays a role.
If you have systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), inflammation can target everything from your skin and joints to your kidneys, heart, lungs, and brain, putting you at a greater risk for renal problems, heart disease, breathing difficulties, pregnancy complications, and more.
Some telltale symptoms of lupus include fatigue; joint pain; fever; photosensitivity (sensitivity to the sun); and rashes, sometimes including a butterfly-shaped rash on the nose and cheeks. Approximately 1.5 million Americans have lupus; women—especially women of color—make up the overwhelming majority of patients.
So, when should you get checked out? “If someone is experiencing arthritis pains that last more than several weeks, fatigue, rashes, and abnormal sun reactions, they should see their doctor,” says Fotios Koumpouras, MD, a Yale Medicine rheumatologist and director of the Lupus Program. “Systemic lupus is a complex disease, and no two patients are quite alike.” Lupus is one of the under-diagnosed diseases doctors often miss.