Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects nearly 1.5 million Americans, 90% of which are women. Lupus causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissues and organs; this means anything from blood cells to the brain, heart, and lungs can be affected.

The symptoms of lupus are often mistaken for other illnesses, but the most common sign is a rash that spreads across the cheeks. Other symptoms are fatigue, fever, joint pain, photosensitivity, Raynaud’s, chest pain, shortness of breath, dry eyes, headaches, confusion, and memory loss.

Lupus is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. One of the triggers of lupus is sunlight. Exposure to the sun can cause lupus lesions on the skin. Another trigger are infections. Certain infections can initiate lupus symptoms, or even cause a relapse. Medications are also a possible trigger for lupus. Specifically antibiotics and blood pressure or anti-seizure medications can cause lupus symptoms until the drug is stopped. Rarely, the symptoms of lupus will continue even after the drug use is discontinued.

Lupus causes the immune system to attack the body, this means the range of complications is vast. For some, lupus causes serious kidney damage which can lead to kidney failure. This is the leading cause of death for people with lupus. For others, the brain and central nervous system are affected. This is what causes headaches, dizziness, behavioral changes, etc. This causes the mind to often become “clouded,” making it hard for some people with lupus to accurately and clearly express their thoughts. Another way lupus can affect the body is in the blood and blood vessels. Lupus can cause anemia and other issues of bleeding or clotting. Lupus can also cause vasculitis, inflammation of blood vessels, which can cause nerve damage. The lungs and heart are also at risk of complications due to lupus. For the lungs, lupus causes and increased risk of developing inflammation in the chest cavity lining, making breathing painful. In the heart, lupus can cause the heart, arteries, or heart membrane to become inflamed, increasing risk of disease and heart attacks.

Currently, there is no way to test for and diagnose lupus. It is through a combination of blood and urine tests and other symptoms that lupus can be diagnosed. Lupus also doesn’t have a cure. There are many ways to treat and manage lupus, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antimalarial drugs, corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, biologicals, and Rituximab. Many of these medications help limit the pain and inflammation associated with lupus, while others help suppress the immune system’s ability to attack the body.

Living with lupus can be difficult, but some ways you can try to minimize flare ups are seeing your doctor regularly, protecting your skin when you’re outside, exercising regularly, not smoking, and eating a healthy diet. Also, paying attention to what symptoms are worse for you, what your personal triggers might be, and how you best handle flare ups can help you when you do experience symptoms of lupus. Seeking support from friends and family and also taking time for yourself are other good ways to manage life with lupus.