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What is Lupus?

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is a chronic autoimmune condition where the immune system creates antibodies which instead of protecting the body from bacteria, viruses and other foreign matter, attacks the person's own body tissues. Lupus is neither infectious nor contagious.

Lupus mainly affects women but young children and men can also be affected. Only 10% of lupus patients are men. Lupus is a worldwide condition. In New Zealand, it affects 1 in 900 people and is more prevalent in Maori, Pacific people, Asians and other races with darker skin.

Lupus can present itself in a bewildering number of ways, often mimicking other diseases. It can be difficult to diagnose unless the GP or specialist is alert to the possibilities. Many a time the patient can be made to feel that it's all in the head!. A patient can look quite well and healthy with rosy cheeks. Every case is different and rarely do two people experience exactly the same symptoms.

The causes of lupus are not fully understood, although it is likely that both heredity and environmental factors are involved. 

Lupus can be triggered..

  • by hormones
  • by sunlight and ultraviolet light
  •    by certain medications

There is also anecdotal evidence that flares of lupus can occur after viral infections or periods of stress.

What are the Symptoms?

Every case of lupus is different.  The symptoms can come and go making it difficult for doctors to make diagnosis.  Lupus is characterised by flares, when it is more active and periods of remission, when it is quiet.


Below are some of the more common symptoms...

  • joint and/or muscle aches and pains
  • butterfly shaped rash on the cheeks and/or other rashes
  • fatigue and weakness
  • recurring flu-like symptoms
  • headaches, migraines
  • oral and/or nasal ulcers
  • dry eyes
  • hair loss
  • depression
  • seizures, mental and other cerebral problems
  • chest and/or abdominal pain
  • poor blood circulation (Raynaud's phenomenon")
  • blood disorders
  • kidney problems

The treatment of Lupus

The goal of treatment is to control the symptoms and the underlying autoimmune disorder. At present there is no cure for lupus but the condition can be managed and controlled with medication and adjustments in lifestyle. Most patients are able to live a normal lifespan. Research brings new findings and increased hope each year. The majority of patients are in the ongoing care of Rheumatologists and other specialists may also have involvement from time to time.

Suggestions on how to cope and live well with lupus

Join a local Lupus NZ group, meet other lupus patients and supporters in a caring and understanding environment.