Guide to Different Types of Lupus

Joint pain is one symptom of lupus.
Joint pain is one symptom of lupus. Hero Images/Getty Images

Lupus is an autoimmune disease, one that takes on several forms and can affect any part of the body, but is most commonly attacks the skin, joints, the heart, lungs, blood, kidneys and brain. It also comes in various types, affecting the body – and patient – in various ways.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

The most common form of lupus is systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE, which can affect many parts of the body, including the joints, skin, blood vessels and organs.

SLE sufferers may go through years of red rashes, extreme fatigue, painful or swollen joints, or fevers without ever noticing a pattern to the flares or a physician ever being able to diagnose SLE. These symptoms may come and go all at once and can be mild or severe.

Lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is often diagnosed using an anti-nuclear anitbody blood test (ANA). An ANA test identifies autoantibodies that attack the body's own tissues and cells. A positive ANA does not automatically mean a person has lupus, but rather a positive ANA is one piece of the puzzle of lupus diagnosis that includes a patient's symptoms, a physical examination and other laboratory tests.

Other autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumantoid arthritis and scleroderma can also show a positive ANA.

Drug Induced Lupus

Drug induced lupus is a condition mimicking the symptoms of lupus, but brought on by certain types of drugs, usually taken over long periods of time.

Drug induced lupus is completely reversible once the drug is discontinued.

Many drugs have been known to cause this form of the disease, but several are considered primary culprits. They are mainly drugs used to treat chronic conditions such as heart disease, thyroid disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), neuropsychiatric disorders, anti-inflammatories, and several anti-convulsants.

The three drugs mostly to blame for drug induced lupus are:

  • procainamide (brand name Pronestyl, used to treat heart arrythmias)
  • hydralazine (brand name Apresoline, used to tread hypertension)
  • quinidine (brand name Quinaglute, used to treat heart arrythmic

Discoid Lupus

Discoid lupus distinguishes itself from SLE through the severity of rashes. In SLE, a malar rash in a butterfly pattern may appear across the nose and cheeks of the patients, or red rashes may develop in reaction to sunlight. In discoid lupus, chronic inflammatory sores develop on the face, ears, scalp and on other body areas.

These lesions can be crusty and scaling and often scar. Some patients report lesions and scarring on the scalp, making hair re-growth impossible in those areas. It is possible for the disease to spread to internal organs; therefore, a skin biopsy is used to diagnose discoid lupus in these cases, as other diseases can look the same.

As with other forms of lupus, it is a case of the body attacking normal skin. The exact cause of this form is unknown, although women are more likely to have it and it has been shown to run in families. Cigarette smoking and sunlight have been shown to exacerbate the condition.

Neonatal Lupus

This is a rare form of temporary lupus affecting a fetus or newborn. It occurs when the mother’s autoantibodies are passed to her child in utero. These autoantibodies can affect the skin, heart, and blood of the baby. Neonatal lupus sometimes appears as a rash developing soon after birth and can last several months before disappearing. It is not a permanent condition, but half of all babies can be born with a heart condition that is permanent, but treatable using a pacemaker.


“Types” The Lupus Foundation of America. Collected June 2007

“What are the types of lupus?” The National Women’s Health Information Center. September 2003