What is Lupus?

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Lupus forms part of the so-called autoimmune diseases. The immunological system of the body normally produce proteins called antibodies in order to protect the body from viruses, bacteria, and other foreign substances called antigens.

In an autoimmune disease, like lupus, the immunological system mistakenly identifies the body's own cells as if they were foreign particles (antigens) and it goes into action to remove them, producing antibodies “against itself”. These antibodies are called autoantibodies and are bound with their own antigens to form immune complexes that are the cause of the inflammation and damage in the tissues.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), as it name indicates, is also a systemic disease. This means that it can affect many organs (skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, etc.), but half of the patients with lupus are affected, almost exclusively, in the skin and joints.

Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease, which means that the action of the immune system produces inflammation in the organs affected that persist for a long period of time and even for life. However, lupus is characterised by combining periods of major activity or flare-ups (exacerbation) with others of inactivity (remission).

With the appropriate follow-up and treatment, more than 90% of people with lupus have a normal life expectancy. It can present in different grades and intensities: there are mild cases, as well as moderate and severe that are more difficult to treat and control.

How common is Lupus?

Approximately 1 in every 1,000 inhabitants has lupus. There are more than 5 million people worldwide affected with lupus.

Lupus can affect both females and males of different races, ethnic groups, and ages. However, it affects much more females than males and, although it can present at any age, it is more common between 15 and 44 years.

Although the disease affects people of all races and ethnic groups, it is most commonly suffered by Latin American, Afro-American, and Asians of mixed race.

Types of Lupus

Man with spots on the skin typical of Lupus

Systemic lupus erythematosus. It is the most common and can affect many parts of the body. It can be difficult to diagnose, as there are no two patients who present with exactly the same clinical signs, and their symptoms can be confused with other diseases or disorders.

woman with a stain on the face typical of Lupus (cutaneous erythematosus)

Cutaneous lupus erythematosus. It usually only affects the skin and is characterised by a rash on the face, legs and/or arms.


Drug-induced lupus. Represents 10% of all cases of lupus and occurs as a reaction to certain types of drugs. Its symptoms are similar to those of the systemic form, but they are usually milder and remit when the medication is stopped.

Bebé, lupus infantil

Neonatal lupus. An unusual type of lupus that affects the newborn. It may develop in children of mothers with lupus, since the antibodies of the mother are present in the neonate. The symptoms usually disappear at 6-8 months of age, coinciding with the complete elimination of the maternal antibodies.

Substantiated information by:

Ricard Cervera
Gerard Espinosa
Neus Guasch
José-Manuel Mascaró
Luis Quintana
Irene Teixidó

Published: 20 February 2018
Updated: 20 February 2018


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