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Lupus Diagnosis and Treatment: What to Know


Lupus is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation in the body. “Autoimmune” means the body’s natural defense system can’t distinguish between its own cells and foreign cells. As a result, it attacks healthy cells and tissues.

Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different parts of the body, including the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, heart, and lungs. While the cause of lupus is unknown, it’s most likely a combination of genetics and environment.

Lupus tends to cycle between flare-ups and remissions. Some people first notice lupus symptoms after a triggering event, such as an infection. Other potential triggers include exposure to sunlight and certain medications, such as antibiotics. 

Getting a lupus diagnosis can be scary, but with early diagnosis and treatment it’s possible to manage your symptoms and avoid more severe complications.

How Is Lupus Diagnosed?

Lupus diagnosis can be challenging because many of the signs and symptoms overlap with those of other conditions. For some people, the first sign is a facial rash that spreads across the cheeks like the wings of a butterfly. But not everyone with lupus will develop a rash.

No single test can diagnose lupus. Rheumatologists (specialists who diagnose and treat lupus) will usually perform a physical examination in combination with a variety of tests to form a diagnosis. These may include:

Laboratory tests

Lab tests can help detect abnormalities associated with lupus. Your doctor may order the following tests:

  • Urinalysis, which can indicate kidney problems associated with lupus.
  • Complete blood count, which can detect anemia and other possible signs of lupus.
  • Antibody tests, which can indicate the presence of certain proteins associated with lupus.

Imaging tests

If your doctor suspects that lupus may be affecting your heart or lungs, they may perform imaging tests, such as:

  • Chest X-ray, which can reveal the presence of fluid or inflammation in the lungs.
  • Echocardiogram, which can reveal problems with the valves of the heart possibly associated with lupus.


Lupus can harm the kidneys, so doctors may biopsy (take a tissue sample of) the kidney to detect possible lupus-related problems. They may also take a skin sample to determine whether a rash or other skin problem could be caused by lupus.

What Are the Symptoms of Lupus?

man suffers from systemic lupus erythematosus, age spots of redness on the face, a rash.

No two cases of lupus are exactly alike. Symptoms may come on slowly or suddenly, and they may be temporary or permanent. Most people with the condition have relatively mild or moderate symptoms that come and go.

The signs and symptoms you experience depend on which area of the body is affected. Here are some of the most common lupus symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling
  • Facial rash or rashes on other parts of the body (often brought on by sun exposure)
  • Fingers and/or toes that turn white or blue when exposed to cold (Raynaud’s syndrome)
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hair loss
  • Chest pains (due to inflammation in the heart)
  • Small, painless ulcers in the mouth and nose
  • Headaches, confusion, and memory loss

You may experience many of these symptoms or just one or two, and they may flare up and then stop temporarily or completely. These patterns may change over time.

How Is Lupus Treated?

While there is currently no known cure for the condition, it’s possible to get lupus symptoms under control with medications and other interventions.

Depending on which symptoms you’re experiencing and your test results, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following medications:

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

These over-the-counter drugs can help reduce pain, swelling, and fever associated with lupus. NSAIDs include familiar names like Aleve (naproxen sodium) and Advil and Motrin (ibuprofen). Your doctor may prescribe a higher dose than is available over the counter, depending on your symptoms.


These drugs counter the inflammation of lupus. Your doctor may prescribe prednisone or another steroid drug to manage your symptoms. These drugs have a significant risk of side effects, especially with higher doses, so your doctor may prescribe them only temporarily. 


Drugs that suppress the immune system can help prevent damage to healthy tissues. Immunosuppressants are usually reserved for more serious cases of lupus. Examples include azathioprine (Imuran, Azasan), methotrexate (Trexall, Xatmep), and leflunomide (Arava).

Antimalarial drugs

Several types of antimalarial drugs are FDA approved to treat lupus. Your doctor may prescribe antimalarial medications to help reduce the risk of lupus flares.


Professional medical physician doctor in white uniform gown coat hand holding stethoscope in clinic hospital

Certain biologic drugs, such as belimumab (Benlysta), can reduce overactivity of the immune system that damages healthy tissues.

As with all drugs, the medications listed above come with risks and possible side effects. Your doctor will help you weigh the risks and benefits of any recommended medications to help you make an informed decision.

Lupus Treatment at Crystal Run Healthcare

With proper treatment, the outlook for people with lupus is positive. In fact, 80%-90% of people with lupus can expect to live a normal lifespan with treatment and close follow-up.

The rheumatology team at Crystal Run Healthcare offers specialized, comprehensive care for lupus at our New York State healthcare facilities. We take a multidisciplinary approach to treatment, coordinating with other specialists to ensure you receive the latest and best therapies available.

We offer rheumatology services at our Middletown, Newburgh, Rock Hill, and West Nyack locations.Contact us to learn more and schedule an appointment.