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Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), or lupus, is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can affect many parts of the body including the skin, joints, kidneys, lungs and brain. It is an autoimmune disease, meaning that it involves an attack by the body on itself. Lupus likely arises from a combination of inherited susceptibility and environmental factors such as viruses, ultraviolet light and certain medications. Symptoms of lupus can include:

  • Pain and swelling of the joints
  • Fatigue
  • Rashes
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Blood clots
  • Anemia
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Inflammation of the lining of the lungs (a condition known as pleurisy) or the lining of the heart (a condition known as pericarditis)
  • Heartburn
  • Poor circulation in the fingers and toes

A distinctive butterfly-shaped rash appears across the cheeks and the bridge of the nose in many—but not all—people with lupus. A doctor who suspects lupus will also look for signs of neurological problems and low kidney function and will order blood tests. A key test looks for antinuclear antibody (ANA), which is present in more than 95 percent of people with lupus. However, this test by itself is not conclusive because many people without lupus also have a positive ANA reading. We use a combination of medical history, physical examination and laboratory studies to make an accurate diagnosis.

Lupus occurs about 10 times more often in women than in men, and it usually begins before age 45. The disease regularly brings a series of flare-ups, which can range from mild to severe, interspersed with periods of few or no symptoms. Over time, the disease can lead to problems such as atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries) and kidney failure that can be fatal. With careful management of the condition, most people with lupus can expect a normal lifespan.

Lupus is a complex and highly variable disease that requires careful individualized management. At Indiana University Health, we design lupus treatment plans to control symptoms, prevent long-term damage and minimize medication side effects. Drawing on our highly specialized training and extensive clinical experience, we closely monitor our patients and adjust their therapies as symptoms change over time. With appropriate care through our hospital-based and satellite offices, most of our lupus patients can maintain high levels of functioning and lead productive, satisfying lifestyles.

Our affiliation with the Indiana University School of Medicine ensures that our patients benefit from the latest innovations in the diagnosis and treatment of lupus. Through this partnership, we also help to train new generations of physicians and engage in research to evaluate new treatment options for rheumatic conditions such as lupus. Additionally, we use the referral system of IU Health to connect patients with experts in cardiology, nephrology and other areas for management of some aspects of lupus when appropriate.

How We Can Help

How We Can Help

Lupus Treatment Information

Treatment options for lupus include:

Lupus Locations & Physicians

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Find a Specialist

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Lupus Support Services

National organizations providing information and resources for lupus patients and their families include: