Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
Flinders Medical Centre Foundation


First Published: Investigator - March 2009

Health Talk speaks to Professor Malcolm Smith, Regional Director of Rheumatology for the Southern Adelaide Health Service about the symptoms, causes and treatment for Lupus.

Lupus is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that causes tissue in the body to become inflamed, swollen and painful. The body’s immune system, which is designed to produce antibodies to destroy viruses or bacteria, mistakenly produces antibodies to attack healthy tissue.

There are several types of Lupus, including systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), discoid and drug-induced lupus. SLE is the most common type.

Depending on which tissues are attacked, lupus can be anything from mild to life threatening.

Who does it affect?

“Lupus can affect people of all ages and sexes, but most commonly it tends to affect women of childbearing age. Lupus affects around one in 700 Australians.

What causes lupus?

The cause of lupus is unknown; however it does appear to have a genetic component. Once a person is diagnosed with lupus they can expect to experience episodes of it throughout their life. In between episodes they may be symptom free.

What are the symptoms?

TEpisodes of lupus can cause pain and tiredness. Lupus can cause inflammation in many parts of the body including:

  • The joints. Joints may become swollen and painful
  • The skin, causing a rash, ulcers (over the body and in the mouth ulcers) and possibly hair loss
  • Major organs such as the kidneys or lungs. Symptoms may include pain and affected function of the organ.

Lupus can cause a range of symptoms, but sufferers generally don’t have all of them. Symptoms can include:

  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Fever (often low grade)
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Chest pain
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Skin rash
  • Hair loss
  • Sunlight sensitivity
  • Kidney problems
  • Clotting problems
  • Seizures
  • Unexplained headaches, migraines or mood swings.

How is lupus diagnosed?

Lupus is diagnosed by a combination of sight, symptoms and testing for the presence of certain antibodies in the blood.

How is lupus treated?

There is no cure for lupus, but it can be controlled with medication. Medications used to treat lupus and its symptoms include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-infl ammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Oral cortisone
  • Oral plaquenil
  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)

Sources: Professor Malcolm Smith; Health Insite www.healthinsite.org.au and Better Health Channel.

© 2016 Flinders Foundation. All Rights Reserved.