Lupus is a group of autoimmune diseases where the body’s own immune system attacks healthy tissue leading to inflammation and damage in the affected organs. Lupus can affect the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, heart, lungs, and blood cells.

Types of lupus include:

  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
    This is the most common and also the most serious form of lupus, affecting not only the skin, but also other organ systems in the body. The signs, symptoms, and severity can vary depending on what organ systems are involved. Symptoms can also come and go with flare-ups and periods of remission. Affected individuals can present with a butterfly-shaped rash on the nose and cheeks of the face, swollen or painful joints, fever, and fatigue. More serious complications can include damage to the kidneys, seizures, stroke, or heart attack. Lupus is seen most commonly in young and middle-aged women. Blacks, Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans are more at risk of developing lupus. Treatment options include various systemic medications such as prednisone, antimalarial medications, immune suppressing drugs, and possibly biologics.
  • Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus
    Cutaneous lupus erythematosus is a subset of lupus that affects the skin, manifesting as rashes. It can be further subclassified into:

    • Acute Cutaneous Lupus
      Acute cutaneous lupus is the skin rash associated with flare ups of systemic lupus erythematosus (see above). The classic presentation is the pink, butterfly-shaped rash on the nose and cheeks of the face. A rash can also appear on the arms, legs, or body.

    • Subacute Cutaneous Lupus (SCLE)
      In subacute cutaneous lupus, red, scaly, round, ring-shaped lesions can appear in a sun-exposed distribution such as on the neck, shoulders, and arm. The rash typically resolves without any scarring.

    • Chronic Cutaneous Lupus (Discoid Lupus)
      In discoid lupus, affected individuals develop red to purple, scaly, round lesions, most commonly on the scalp, face, and ears. These lesions heal with residual skin discoloration and scarring. In the scalp, it may cause permanent hair loss.

      Individuals with cutaneous lupus erythematosus should be routinely screened and monitored for systemic involvement (lupus involving other organs other than the skin). The skin rashes of lupus are photosensitive - meaning sun exposure and sunlight can exacerbate the condition and cause a flare. Treatment involves diligent and strict sun avoidance and sun protection. Topical medications and antimalarial medications are common therapies used to treat cutaneous lupus.

    • Drug-Induced Lupus
      Drug-induced lupus is lupus-like symptoms caused by certain medications. Affected individuals can present with similar symptoms as SLE including fever, fatigue, and joint pain. Some forms of drug-induced lupus cause only skin rashes similar to subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus and more rarely chronic cutaneous lupus erythematosus. The most important treatment measure is to discontinue the medication, though symptoms can take many months to resolve even after stopping the medication.

    • Neonatal Lupus Erythematosus
      Neonatal lupus erythematosus occurs in infants born to mothers with certain autoantibodies; autoantibodies are immune proteins that mistakenly target and react with a person’s own tissue or organs. During pregnancy, the autoantibodies in the mother are passed to her unborn baby. Affected newborns can present with a skin rash, liver problems, or low blood counts. These symptoms are typically transient, resolving within months of delivery without long-term issues. Serious complications with long-term consequences can occur when neonatal lupus erythematosus affects the baby’s heart, causing congenital heart block (disruption of normal heart rate and rhythm). Congenital heart block does not resolve, and affected babies may eventually need a pacemaker.

The information on this website is provided for educational and information purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult with a licensed medical provider and follow their recommendations regardless of what you read on this website. If you think you are having a medical emergency, dial 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Links to other third-party websites are provided for your convenience only. If you decide to access any of the third-party websites, you do so entirely at your own risk and subject to the terms of use for those websites. Neither Palm Beach Dermatology, nor any contributor to this website, makes any representation, express or implied, regarding the information provided on this website or any information you may access on a third-party website using a link. Use of this website does not establish a doctor-patient relationship. If you would like to request an appointment with a health care provider, please call our office at (561) 296-1122.

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Palm Beach Dermatology has been serving patients in and around Palm Beach County for over twenty years, we are a full-service dermatology and dermatological surgery practice with special emphasis on the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. All physicians in our group are Board Certified by The American Board of Dermatology and are Fellows of the American Academy of Dermatology. We invite you to visit us at Palm Beach Dermatology to find out why you can trust our skin care team.

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