Lupus is a condition caused by a problem with the immune system where the body produces an excess of antibodies which then attack healthy cells. Lupus generally affects the skin, joints, kidneys and the lining of the heart and lungs and causes inflammation and pain.

The condition affects women much more than men and people of aboriginal, native american, african, latino or asian descent are more prone to lupus than others (people of aboriginal descent in Australia are twice as likely to suffer from lupus).

Lupus affects more than 20,000 people in Australia and women make up 95% of these sufferers, with the majority of these women aged between 15 and 45.

There are four types of Lupus, of which one particularly affects the skin, called Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE). DLE may be a precursor for a more generalised form of Lupus called Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE).

DLE is a chronic condition where skin in sun exposed areas such as the hands and face, neck and upper back, develops lesions which can be large. Around 5 in 100 people with DLE develop SLE and 1in 5 SLE sufferers develop DLE.

Symptoms of DLE include red and/or scaly patches on the skin which are often round (hence the term 'discoid') in shape, bald patches on the scalp or blotchy skin on the legs.

It can be hard to diagnose lupus, given its similarity to other skin conditions. Diagnosis is usually made via physical examination and a review of medical history. Blood tests and a biopsy of a lesion will also help diagnosis.

Treatment of Lupus

Lupus can not be cured, but it can be effectively managed. Sufferers of DLE are advised to avoid the sun by keeping out of the sun or wearing long sleeved shirts, long trousers and hats when outside and wearing sunscreens that protect against UVA and UVB.

Treatment options for DLE may include:

  • Topical steroid creams (sometimes wrapped to the skin to increase absorption)
  • Injection where very thick skin lesions do not respond to steroid creams
  • Medications used in the treatment of Malaria (eg Plaquenil)
  • Medications used in the treatment of Psoriasis
  • Oral steroids
  • Disease-Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)

It is also important that your body maintain healthy levels of vitamin D, so sufferers may also require vitamin D injections.