What is lupus?

Lupus is a chronic and presently incurable illness of the immune system.

When most people use the term ‘lupus’ they are usually referring to systematic lupus erythematosus (SLE) which is a type of lupus that can affect any body tissue and organ. The information in this section focusses on SLE.

Another milder form of lupus which affects the skin is called is discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE). Read more about the symptoms of DLE.

Autoimmune condition

SLE is an autoimmune condition which means that it is caused by problems with the immune system. Rather than just fighting viruses, bacteria and infection by producing antibodies, your body starts to attack and destroy healthy cells, tissues and organs.

As with other more common autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and coeliacs disease, it is thought that a combination of genetic and environmental factors are responsible for triggering the onset of SLE in certain people.

Lupus & Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The current advice is not to make any changes to your prescribed lupus medications. If you have any concerns please take advice from your rheumatologist and nursing team via their local helpline.


The symptoms of SLE can be many and varied and can range from mild to severe. Many people will experience long periods of time with few or no symptoms and then experience a sudden flare up when their symptoms can become particularly severe.

Even mild cases of SLE can have a considerable impact on a person’s quality of life, particularly because they include chronic fatigue, which can be distressing and cause feelings of depression and anxiety.

The symptoms of SLE often mimic other diseases making it difficult to diagnose. Many SLE patients report months or years of suffering symptoms before they are properly diagnosed.

Managing symptoms

SLE is a lifelong condition but with good support from healthcare professionals, friends and family it is possible to effectively manage the condition.

The Hibbs Lupus Trust information advice line provides support and information.  Call us on FREEPHONE 0800 633 5118 Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. Outside of these hours please email us.

We also provide support and information through our online community – Twitter and Facebook.

How common is it?

It is believed that over 50,000 people throughout the UK suffer with SLE of which 90% are female.

What should I do if I think I have SLE?

SLE can be very difficult to diagnose as the symptoms can vary from person to person and are similar to many other conditions. If you do think you have symptoms consistent with SLE, then you should talk to your GP who can refer you for tests.

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