What is lupus?

Lupus is a chronic (long-term) and presently incurable illness of the immune system that can cause inflammation and pain in any part of your body.

Because lupus affects many parts of the body, it can cause a lot of different symptoms.

When people talk about lupus, they’re usually talking about systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). But there are four kinds of lupus:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the most common form of lupus
  • Cutaneous lupus, a form of lupus that is limited to the skin
  • Drug-induced lupus, a lupus-like disease caused by certain prescription drugs
  • Neonatal lupus, a rare condition that affects infants of women who have lupus

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

What Is Lupus? - The Hibbs Lupus Trust

Who is at risk for developing lupus?

Anyone can develop lupus. But certain people are at higher risk for lupus, including:

  • Women ages 15 to 44
  • Certain racial or ethnic groups — including people who are African American, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, or Pacific Islander
  • People who have a family member with lupus or another autoimmune disease

Autoimmune condition

Lupus 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 lupus in certain people.


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

Symptoms can flare up and settle down

Lupus often flares up (relapses) and symptoms become worse for a few weeks, sometimes longer.

Symptoms then settle down (remission). The reason why symptoms flare up or settle down is not known.

Some people do not notice any difference and their symptoms are constant.

Read more about the different symptoms here.

Managing symptoms

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

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

What should I do if I think I have lupus?

Lupus 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 lupus, then you should talk to your GP who can refer you for tests.

Check if you're eligible for help with NHS costs

You might be able to get help to pay some NHS charges

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.