Drug-induced lupus is a condition in which a person experiences symptoms similar to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) after exposure to certain medications.

Drug-induced lupus accounts for 6–12% of all cases of lupus. There are approximately 15,000–30,000 new cases of this type of lupus annually in the United States.

This article explores the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of drug-induced lupus. It also answers some common questions about the condition.

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Symptoms of drug-induced lupus are similar to those of SLE. Some of these symptoms may include:

A person should speak with a doctor if they think they may be experiencing drug-induced lupus.

Drug-induced lupus is similar to but not identical to SLE, which is an autoimmune disorder. When a person has an autoimmune condition, their immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues in their body. In drug-induced lupus, medication causes the immune system’s reaction rather than the immune system attacking itself.

Symptoms of drug-induced lupus may start from 1 month to over 10 years after a person starts taking medication. In some cases, healthcare professionals may have difficulty identifying the medication that has caused the condition due to the delay in the onset of symptoms.

Medications that commonly cause drug-induced lupus include:

Less commonly, drugs that cause drug-induced lupus include:

The lists above are not exhaustive. A person may also experience autoimmune responses, including drug-induced lupus, after taking other medications.

To diagnose drug-induced lupus, a doctor may perform a physical examination to check for swollen and tender joints and skin rashes.

They may also order blood tests and urinalysis to check for certain antibodies, which can suggest an autoimmune process.

Diagnosis can be difficult, as laboratory evaluation may not always provide doctors with enough information to clearly distinguish between drug-induced lupus and SLE. In some cases, a doctor may refer a person to a rheumatologist or another specialist.

There is no specific test to identify which drugs may be the cause of the condition, except for noting improvements in symptoms as a person stops and starts particular medications. This can be challenging, especially if a person takes several different medications.

The most crucial treatment is for a person to stop taking the medication that triggers the condition under the supervision of their doctor.

It can be difficult for doctors to determine which medication is the cause of drug-induced lupus if a person is taking several different drugs, as the incubation period of different medications varies. A doctor may suggest supervised “drug holidays,” in which a person stops specific drugs for several months at a time.

Typically, after a person stops taking the medication, the symptoms of drug-induced lupus improve within a few weeks, and blood tests reveal a return to their natural state. However, a person may take as long as a year to fully recover.

A person may require treatment of symptoms, which can include:

People with drug-induced lupus should use sun protection, as the associated skin rash can be sensitive to the sun.

Below are some of the most common questions and answers about drug-induced lupus.

How long does it take to develop drug-induced lupus?

Drug-induced lupus may develop from 1 month to over 10 years after a person starts taking the triggering medication.

Can someone recover from drug-induced lupus?

A person can recover from drug-induced lupus. The symptoms will typically recede within weeks after a person stops taking the triggering medication. However, in rare cases, a person may experience complications.

How long can drug-induced lupus last?

After a person stops taking the triggering medication, symptoms of the condition will generally resolve within a few weeks but may remain for several months in rare cases. Although symptoms may resolve quickly, the antibodies associated with drug-induced lupus can remain positive for several months to years.

Is there a disease that mimics lupus?

Several conditions can cause symptoms similar to lupus, including:

  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • rosacea
  • undifferentiated connective tissue disease
  • dermatomyositis
  • Hashimoto’s disease
  • Sjörgen’s syndrome
  • fibromyalgia

In drug-induced lupus, certain medications can trigger a person’s immune system to mistakenly attack healthy cells, which can cause symptoms similar to the most common type of lupus, SLE.

Various drugs can drug-induced lupus, including the high blood pressure medication hydralazine, antibiotics minocycline and isoniazid, and procainamide, which treats cardiac arrhythmias.

To diagnose the condition, a doctor may order different tests and perform a physical exam. However, this will not indicate symptoms distinct from SLE. To determine which drug triggers drug-induced lupus, a person may have to stop certain medications under a doctor’s supervision and note changes.