Learn more about this long-term condition, from how it’s diagnosed to the symptoms of lupus

Being a widely misunderstood condition, it’s important to raise awareness about lupus, which is why we’re here to answer the important questions regarding symptoms through to treatment.

What is lupus?

Lupus is a long-term autoimmune condition that can affect different parts of the body, including skin, joints and internal organs. It’s not infectious or contagious and develops from problems in the immune system, when it mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, subsequently causing inflammation and leading to damage.

There’s currently no cure for lupus. However, symptoms can be improved with the help of early diagnosis and treatment.

How is lupus diagnosed?

Lupus can share many similarities to other conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, making it more challenging for medical professionals to diagnose. To come to a confident diagnosis, your GP will conduct a few tests whilst taking other factors into consideration like symptoms, medical history and family history.

GPs will usually do some blood tests. High levels of a type of antibody, combined with typical symptoms means lupus is likely. Referral for additional tests like X-rays and scans may be required. These tests can give your GP more detailed information regarding specific organs that they suspect might have been affected by the condition.

Lupus can range from mild to severe and each stage can affect the body in different ways:

• Mild – fatigue and joint and skin problems

• Moderate – inflammation of the skin and body

• Severe – inflammation causing severe damage to the organs that can be life threatening

Following diagnosis, those with lupus will be required to have regular tests and checks. These can include blood tests and urine tests.

What are the symptoms of lupus?

As there are many manifestations of lupus, the symptoms can vary widely from person to person. The most common symptoms associated are extreme fatigue, joint and muscle pain. Other symptoms can include:

• A red, butterfly-shaped rash over your cheeks and nose (known as a butterfly rash)

• Anaemia

• Light-sensitivity

• Headaches/migraines

• Hair loss

• Oral/nasal ulcers

• Brain fog

• Depression and anxiety

Lupus symptoms often flare up or settle down and the cause for this is unknown. When lupus relapses, the symptoms can worsen for a few weeks or longer. When it’s in remission, these symptoms start to settle. However, some people can experience constant symptoms without them going into remission.

If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms and are concerned that you may have lupus, speak to your GP who will be able to assist you with a diagnosis.

What causes lupus?

Lupus develops when the body’s natural defence system (immune system) attacks healthy tissue, cells and organs. The cause for this is unclear. However, it’s thought the condition is commonly triggered in people who have a family history of lupus or other immune system diseases, such as arthritis. More women get lupus compared to men and it’s also more common in black and Asian women.

Although the exact causes of lupus are widely misunderstood, some medical professionals believe there are multiple environmental factors that may also contribute to the development of the illness, including:

• Hormonal changes, such as puberty and pregnancy

• During the menopause

• After viral infection

• Exposure to sunlight

• After a prolonged course of certain medications

• As a result of trauma

How do you treat lupus?

Although there’s currently no cure for lupus, there are some treatments that can be used to help make the condition more manageable. An appropriate treatment plan and close monitoring of the condition will usually be carried out by your GP.

The type of treatment your GP will recommend is usually based on the severity of symptoms. You could be offered:

Anti-inflammatory medicines:

Such as ibuprofen, are widely used for those with muscle and joint pain. Always consult with your GP before you start taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines.


This type of medicine is a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) that contains anti-inflammatory properties, which can help with skin and joint problems. It can also provide some assistance with fatigue.


Injections, creams or tablets are often prescribed for those who experience symptoms such as rashes and kidney inflammation. Your GP will decide the appropriate dosage, which may gradually reduce once the condition is under control.

High impact medication like steroids are often given to people for short periods of time. Your GP should discuss this with you.

In some cases of severe lupus, two medicines, rituximab and belimumab, are sometimes used to help reduce the number of antibodies in the blood.

Other things to consider when you have lupus

Although pregnancy is a unique experience for all individuals, lupus can generally cause complications. If you have lupus and plan on trying for a baby, you should discuss this with your GP first to outline the risks associated. They may recommend waiting to try for a baby until the condition is in remission. Those who fall pregnant whilst they have lupus are likely to have their medicine changed if their GP thinks it’s necessary.

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness like lupus can weigh heavily on a person’s mental health. Depression is a condition that is often linked with lupus. Although it’s difficult to determine whether it’s an integral part of the disease or if it’s a response from the initial diagnosis, there are plenty of resources out there that can help.

You can speak to your pharmacy team or GP for further advice. Alternatively, Boots Online Doctor Depression and Anxiety Treatment service* can offer online support and advice, helping you seek the appropriate treatment and support to help you feel like yourself again. You’ll be asked to fill out a quick online consultation. After, one of our clinicians will assess you and prescribe treatment if appropriate.

Lifestyle tips to help with lupus

Although medicines play a vital role in helping manage lupus, there are also some lifestyle changes that can help reduce the risk of flare-ups. Take a look at our six tips below:

Tip 1: Minimise your exposure to direct sunlight

Some people who have lupus can experience symptom flare-ups when exposed to direct sunlight or when they spend lots of time in rooms with fluorescent lights. This commonly leads to rashes on the skin, known as ‘photosensitive rashes’. It can also lead to people feeling unwell. For example, they may develop a migraine or feel nauseous.

Those who have lupus should use a sunscreen with a high factor of 50+ or above. This is usually available to most people on prescription. So, talk to your GP. Other sun protection measures should be taken like wearing a hat in the sun.

Tip 2: Rest up & pace yourself

To help prevent lupus flare-ups, regular rest is essential as sleep increases your immune system function. As well as sleep, pacing yourself when it comes to daily activities is also important as it can help you use your energy more efficiently throughout the day.

Tip 3: Learn to manage your daily stress levels

Stress can worsen lupus symptoms. So, learning how to manage your daily stress levels can be beneficial. Engaging in relaxation techniques can help you find your inner calm during stressful moments, from breathing exercises to meditation.

Tip 4: Eat a healthy, balanced diet & try to remain active

Although a healthy diet won’t cure lupus, it can help improve your general health. All meals should include carbohydrate, some protein and some fat. And don’t forget that all-important five-a-day. Read our easy ways to get your five-a-day if you struggle to incorporate them into your daily diet.

When it comes to your diet, you should always follow the guidance of your GP. If you need help with your diet, they may be able to refer you to a dietician.

Exercise is also beneficial for your health and wellbeing. Lupus symptoms can range in severity for most people, so some exercises might not be appropriate. If you currently do not engage in exercise, talk to your GP to find out which activities are most suited to your condition.

Tip 5: Quit smoking

Although this doesn’t apply to everyone, it cannot be stressed enough. Smoking can worsen lupus flare-ups, whilst lowering the effectiveness of some medicines used to treat lupus.

Quitting smoking can be challenging but you needn’t go through it alone. There are plenty of resources out there that can help. Speak to your GP or pharmacy team for support on your quitting journey.

Tip 6: Be open with your friends, family & employer

Although this can be easier said than done, talking to those close to you about your condition can give you the support you need and raises awareness and understanding of your condition. They may also be able to help you adjust your lifestyle for the better. For example, your employer might work with you to adjust your working hours to make them more manageable for you.