Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation and lead to damage of any organ, including the kidneys, heart, lungs, skin, and brain. 

While most people have heard of lupus, few truly understand the disease and the impact it has on millions of individuals.  

“Although lupus is not a curable disease, there are a lot of therapy options available to keep it under control and allow patients to have the best quality of life possible,” says Gloria Salazar, MD, assistant professor of rheumatology and clinical immunogenetics at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and director of rheumatology at Harris Health Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital

The following are eight key facts about lupus that you need to know. 

  1. Lupus behaves differently in individuals, and disease severity can range from mild to life-threatening. 
  1. There are 5 million people around the world, including more than 1 million Americans, who are living with lupus. 
  1. Lupus can occur in both men and women, but it occurs 10 times more in women. 
  1. Women of childbearing age are at the highest risk of lupus, but it can occur at any age. 
  1. While not present in all patients with lupus, rashes on the face are one of the trademarks of the disease, and they can be triggered by sun exposure. 
  1. Systemic lupus erythematosus is the most common and widely known form of lupus, and it can affect multiple organs. There is also a type of lupus, cutaneous lupus erythematosus, which is limited to the skin. 
  1. Lupus is not contagious, and it cannot be transferred sexually. There is a slight predisposition to lupus in people who have family members with autoimmune disease. 
  1. Lupus potentially predisposes patients to higher risk pregnancies and complications. Involving a rheumatologist early on in family planning and for close surveillance during the pregnancy is recommended. Some medications commonly used to treat lupus can be harmful to the fetus and are not safe during pregnancy, so discuss other treatment options with your physician. 

Kanika Monga, MD, is a rheumatology fellow with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and UT Physicians.