Lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is one of the more common autoimmune diseases (rheumatic diseases) and presents in a variety of ways with myriad symptoms such as rash, joint pain and fever.

"Lupus can affect many organ systems and can show up in different ways, which is why it is sometimes referred to as the disease with a thousand faces," says Professor Julian Thumboo, Head and Senior Consultant, Department of Rheumatology and Immunology at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth Group.

Gender and genetic predisposition

Gender and ethnicity are risk factors for lupus. The disease can strike at any age, though it most often appears between the ages of 20 and 40.

"Women, particularly those of childbearing age, are more prone to this disease because of hormonal influences related to the female hormone oestrogen," explains Prof Thumboo.

Studies have shown that Asian migrants such as Indians and Chinese are twice as likely to suffer from lupus as compared to Caucasians. Lupus also has more severe clinical manifestations in Asians than in Caucasians.

Besides gender and genetic factors, lupus can be caused by environmental factors such as certain viruses and exposure to the mineral silica. Since the female hormone oestrogen has a link to this chronic disease, HRT or hormone replacement therapy presents a small risk for lupus.

Hair dye has been linked to lupus in the past, but Prof Thumboo says that this association has now been ruled out.

"Hair dye doesn’t trigger lupus," he says emphatically.

Symptoms of lupus

Symptoms vary widely though the most common are a rash, typically a "butterfly" rash over the cheeks and bridge of the nose; joint pain, mostly affecting the fingers, hands and, wrists; and fever. Other symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • General discomfort and uneasiness
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth ulcers which are typically painless (in contrast to other causes of mouth ulcers)
  • Breathlessness and chest pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Leg swelling due to kidney disease
  • Fits due to brain involvement

Read the next page for how to prevent lupus flare-ups.

Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus)


What are autoimmune disorders


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Check out other articles on autoimmune diseases (rheumatic dieases):

What are Rheumatic Diseases (Autoimmune Diseases)?

Rheumatoid Arthritis: What you Need to Know

Spondyloarthritis: An Inflammatory Rheumatic Disease

Osteoarthritis: Pain and Inflammation of the Joints

Autoimmune Disorders: Frequently Asked Questions