Top of this page
Skip navigation, go straight to the content

Lupus Fast Facts

What is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus)?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease. The immune system develops antibodies that attack and harm the body’s healthy tissues and organs. At present there is no cure.1

The term ‘lupus’ was derived from the Latin word for wolf in an effort to describe one of the disease’s most recognizable features: the rash on the cheeks that suggests a wolf-like appearance.1

How is it caused?

The cause of lupus is unknown, but is thought to be multifactorial, with genetic, hormonal and environmental factors all playing a role. No single test exists to determine whether a person has lupus, meaning that the disease often goes undiagnosed.2

Disease formation

There are three main types of lupus:1

  • Discoid (cutaneous)
  • Systemic
  • Drug-induced

Common symptoms of lupus

The most common symptoms of lupus in both men and women are:3

  • butterfly-shaped rash across cheeks and nose
  • hair loss
  • painful or swollen joints
  • Inflammation of the kidneys
  • blood clotting in veins or arteries
  • anaemia
  • migraines
  • dizziness
  • abdominal pain caused by effects on the gut, pancreas, liver or spleen
  • swelling of the lymph glands
  • painful red eye or changes in eyesight
  • extreme tiredness2

How common is lupus?

  • Approximately 50,000 people live with lupus in the UK2
  • Women are seven times more likely to develop the disease than men3

Treatments for lupus

  • In mild forms of lupus; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), corticosteroid creams or the antimalarial drug (hydroxychloroquine) and low-dose corticosteroids can be used to manage symptoms.4
  • Immunosuppressants, cytotoxan, azathioprine and methotrexate are occasionally used to treat lupus.1
  • Biologic drugs such as belimumab, is indicated for treatment of SLE5



1. The Lupus site. What is Lupus?. (accessed August 2012)

2. Lupus UK. (accessed August 2012)

3. Arthritis Research UK (accessed August 2012)

4. Makover ME. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Systemic lupus erythematosus. http:// Last updated February 2011 (accessed June 2012)

5. Scott LH et al. Belimumab: A Guide to Its Use in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Biodrugs 2012; 26 (3): 195-199

Oct 2012 - UK/12CI0090a