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Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus)


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View a list of insurance plans accepted at the University of Miami Health System.

What is lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system malfunctions and attacks healthy tissue and organs. It causes swelling and affects areas throughout your body, including your joints, connective tissue (supports your skin and internal organs), blood, and blood vessels. It can affect your kidneys, skin, heart, brain, and other organs.

Each person’s symptoms are different, depending on the area of the body that’s affected. Symptoms can develop quickly or arise more slowly, they can be temporary or permanent, and they can range from mild to life threatening. Most people with lupus have periodic symptom flares — when symptoms worsen for a period of time and then improve or go away completely.

What are the symptoms of lupus?

Although symptoms will vary, the most common signs of lupus include:

  • Blood disorders, such as anemia, low platelet or white blood cell counts, and blood clots
  • Butterfly-shaped rash over your cheeks and nose that looks like a sunburn
  • Dry eyes and mouth
  • Fatigue that doesn't go away with rest
  • Hair loss
  • Low-grade fever
  • Kidney problems
  • Memory problems and confusion
  • Painful, swollen joints 
  • Sensitivity to light, which can cause symptoms to get worse
  • Shortness of breath or chest pain with breathing, laughing, coughing, or sneezing

Many of the symptoms of lupus are shared by numerous other health problems, so it's important to work with someone who specializes in autoimmune diseases. Rheumatologists at University of Miami Health System have advanced experience diagnosing and treating lupus, so you can be confident you’ll receive the most effective care. With locations throughout South Florida, you can find a lupus specialist nearby.

How is lupus treated?

Doctors use immunosuppressive medicines to stop the immune system from attacking healthy tissues, as well as other medicines (such as anticoagulants) to prevent complications:

  • Antimalarials: reduce antibody (an immune system protein) production to improve rashes, mouth ulcers, and joint pain in mild forms of lupus
  • Anticoagulants: prevent blood clots from forming
  • Corticosteroids: slow the body's immune response to relieve swelling and pain
  • Disease-modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs): suppress the immune system broadly to prevent swelling
  • Genetically Engineered Biologics: a newer type of DMARD that targets specific immune functions
  • Monoclonal Antibodies: blocks your body's production of antibodies that mistakenly attack healthy tissue

How do you test for lupus?

In some instances, doctors take a sample of tissue from an area that's affected by lupus to confirm a diagnosis and help determine the best course of treatment. For example, your doctor may take a sample of kidney tissue or skin that’s affected by a rash.

Lab Tests 
Rheumatologists use a variety of tests to rule out other conditions and diagnose lupus, including:

  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Urinalysis
  • Tests that look for swelling (erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein test) and antibodies associated with lupus (antinuclear antibodies or ANA test).

Lab tests also help doctors determine which areas of your body are affected.

Why Choose UHealth?

The latest treatments for lupus and other rheumatic diseases. In addition to treating patients, our rheumatologists conduct research to find better approaches for managing the disease. That means you receive care from specialists on the leading edge of lupus care. You have access to some of today’s most promising therapies through clinical trials — including treatments you can’t find anywhere else nearby.

Comprehensive care from a team of specialists. Lupus can affect many areas of the body, so our rheumatologists work with doctors in a full range of medical specialties to give you comprehensive, coordinated care — such as hematologists (blood disorders), dermatologists, cardiologists, vascular specialists, neurologists, pulmonologists (lung diseases), nephrologists (kidney diseases), and others. 

Expert diagnosis and personalized attention. Treatment for lupus isn’t one size fits all. We develop a personalized treatment plan that’s designed to relieve your symptoms. We consider your lifestyle and changing needs to ensure you get the best possible results from treatment. 

Specialized care to improve your quality of life. Your team will educate you about lupus and help you learn how to prevent symptom flares through a nutritious diet, exercise, plenty of rest, and other healthy lifestyle habits. We make sure you have the support and resources you need to cope with lupus. You won’t face this alone.

Questions? We're here to help.

Our appointment specialists are ready to help you find what you need. Contact us today.