Lupus can cause widespread inflammation, affecting the skin, heart, lungs, and other areas of the body.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack its own healthy tissues. It cannot distinguish between healthy tissue and unknown invaders, including bacteria and viruses.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the
This article considers the effects of lupus on the body and takes a deeper dive into the specific areas lupus may affect and symptoms.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Symptoms may range from mild to life threatening, so it is important to receive an early diagnosis and treatment from a medical professional. People may experience periods of flare-ups and remission.
Many doctors refer to the American College of Rheumatology’s classification criteria to confirm a lupus diagnosis. If a person meets 4 out of the 11 criteria, a doctor will consider a lupus diagnosis. These symptoms include:
- facial rash or a malar rash
- skin rash
- mouth or nose ulcers
- inflammation of the lining of the heart of the lungs
- neurological disorders, such as seizures
- kidney disorders such as excessive protein in the urine
- blood disorders such as anemia
- immunological disorders
- antinuclear antibodies
A person should consult a doctor if they notice any of the above or any of the following effects. Doctors will prescribe suitable medication to treat inflammation and other associated symptoms.
The integumentary system comprises the skin, hair, nails, and glands that produce sweat and oil.
- Chronic or discoid lupus: This causes round, disc-shaped sores on the face and scalp. The sores may lead to scarring or changes in skin color.
- Subacute: This causes a red scaly rash or red ring-shaped sores. It usually occurs in areas that have been in the sun, such as the neck and arms.
- Acute: This causes a butterfly-shaped rash on the cheeks and nose that looks like a sunburn, known as a malar rash. It may also affect the arms and legs.
Nails and hair
When lupus affects the nails, it may cause:
- nails to crack, split, or fall off
- swelling around the nails
A person with discoid lupus and a darker skin tone may develop dark, blue-black nails.
Learn more about lupus rash on skin of color.
People with lupus may also experience swollen lymph glands, which can cause discomfort in the following areas:
- under chin
Read more about lupus and lymph nodes.
The circulatory system, which doctors refer to more commonly as the cardiovascular system, consists of the heart, blood vessels, and blood.
Lupus may cause inflammation in the heart and result in the following conditions:
- Endocarditis: This is the inflammation in the heart walls and valves. Symptoms include a heart murmur and fever.
- Myocarditis: This refers to the inflammation in the heart muscle, resulting in chest pain and irregular heartbeat.
- Pericarditis: This is the inflammation in the heart’s sac. Symptoms include chest pain and shortness of breath.
Lupus increases the risk of heart disease, including coronary artery disease.
Blood and blood vessels
Lupus and the proposed treatments may cause issues with the blood and blood vessels, including:
- high blood pressure
- leukopenia, which is not enough white blood cells
- thrombocytopenia, which is not enough platelets
Learn more about lupus and thrombocytopenia.
Learn more about the links between hyperthyroidism and lupus.
The immune system helps protect and prevent the body from infection.
Lupus UK discusses how lupus leads to:
- the production of pathogenic autoantibodies
- the deposition of immune complexes into tissues
- widespread organ inflammation
People with lupus have an increase in B and T cells and cytokines, leading to inflammation in the body and giving rise to possible infections.
The digestive system comprises the digestive tract, pancreas, and liver.
Lupus may affect each part of the digestive tract in the following ways:
- Mouth: Lupus may lead to mouth ulcers or gum inflammation.
- Esophagus: Lupus may weaken the muscles used to swallow, and this may cause acid reflux, which may develop into gastroesophageal reflux disease.
- Stomach: People with lupus may develop peptic ulcers due to certain medications or certain bacteria in the stomach. Lupus may also cause issues with the abdomen, including peritonitis or inflammation of the abdominal lining and ascites, which is a buildup of fluids.
- Intestines: In some people, lupus may cause vasculitis, which causes intestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain and diarrhea. Others may develop irritable bowel syndrome, which causes gas and constipation.
Additional areas that lupus may affect and cause health issues include:
The nervous system is the body’s command center for nerve sensations. It consists of three main parts, and lupus affects these in the following ways:
- The central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. Lupus may cause the following issues:
- brain fog
- The peripheral nervous system, which makes the muscles move and informs the brain what the body is feeling. Lupus may cause nerve damage, sometimes referred to as peripheral neuropathy.
- The autonomic nervous system, which controls internal processes such as breathing, heartbeat, and blood flow. Lupus may cause changes in heartbeat or blood pressure.
Find out more about the nervous system from our dedicated hub.
The reproductive system refers to the bodily systems responsible for sexual function.
Bone and musculoskeletal involvement are two of the
Autoimmune rheumatic diseases, such as SLE, may result in systemic inflammation and local bone loss or osteoporosis, which carries a higher fracture risk.
The respiratory system allows air to reach the lungs, from which oxygen enters the blood to all body cells.
Inflammation caused by lupus may affect the lungs in the following ways:
Lupus causes the immune system to attack its own healthy tissues, resulting in widespread inflammation. Lupus can affect various bodily systems, including, but not limited to, the pulmonary system, the digestive system, and the nervous system.
Lupus also affects organs such as the skin, hair, and nails. It is important a person receives a diagnosis to receive prompt medical treatment.