Lupus is a long term condition that can cause inflammation to the joints, skin and other organs.
It is a systemic autoimmune disease that has no known cure, and occurs when your body's immune system attacks its own tissues and organs.
The organs that can come under attack include kidneys, brain, heart and lungs. Blood cells can also be affected. In its mildest form, lupus simply causes inflammation and tiredness, and can be managed. At its most severe, it can be life threatening.
What are the symptoms of lupus?
Symptoms can flare up for periods, and then settle down. Why this happens is not known, and some people experience their symptoms on a more constant basis than others.
You should go and see your doctor if you experience any of the three main lupus symptoms.
The most distinctive sign of lupus is a facial rash that resembles the wings of a butterfly unfolding across both cheeks. This occurs in most but not all cases of lupus.
The other key symptoms are extreme tiredness and joint pain and stiffness.
Further signs can include weight loss, poor circulation to the fingers, sensitivity to light and swollen glands.
Lupus can be difficult to diagnose as the signs and symptoms often mimic those of other illnesses.
How can GPs test for lupus?
Your GP will usually do some blood tests to check for lupus. High levels of a type of antibody, combined with typical symptoms, means the condition is likely.
X-rays and heart scans may follow, as well as checks on kidneys and other organs if your doctor thinks they might be affected.
Once lupus is diagnosed, you'll be advised to have regular checks and tests, such as regular blood tests to check for anaemia and urine tests to check for kidney problems, which lupus can cause.
How is it treated?
Lupus is often treated using anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen, which are very commonly available.
Hydroxychloroquine is used for fatigue and skin and joint problems, while steroid tablets, injections and creams are prescribed for kidney inflammation and rashes.
What causes lupus?
Lupus is not contagious.
The condition is known to be triggered by viral infections, strong medication, sunlight, puberty, childbirth and the menopause, however the direct cause is not fully understood.
More women than men get lupus, and it's most common in black and Asian women.
How to best live with lupus
A healthy diet, active lifestyle and getting lots of rest is essential to anybody living with the condition.
Stress can also make the symptoms worse, so activities that aid stress relief are also encouraged.
High factor sun cream and sun hats to protect from the sun are also important.
It is also strongly advised that, if you are a smoker, you stop smoking as soon as you are diagnosed with lupus.