What is lupus?

Your immune system protects you from illness. It does this by attacking bacteria, viruses or toxic chemicals that enter your body.

If you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system attacks healthy tissue within your body. Lupus is one type of autoimmune disease. Lupus is most common in women in their late teens to forties.  

People with lupus develop swelling in their body. This swelling can damage skin, joints and internal organs. While there is no cure for lupus, it is manageable.

Learn about the only lupus clinic in Wisconsin


Convenient care in one location

The UW Health Lupus Clinic is the only clinic in Wisconsin dedicated to treating lupus. We offer one-stop access to everything you need. At our clinic, you will see your entire lupus care team during one appointment, including experts in rheumatology, social work and pharmacy. We offer on-site immunizations, medication therapies and laboratory tests, and work together to coordinate your medical care and social and emotional support.

If you have kidney disease related to your lupus, we will coordinate your care in our Lupus Nephritis Clinic.

Meet our team

A team approach to care

Our care team includes experts in rheumatology, social work and pharmacy. We offer on-site immunizations, medication therapies and laboratory tests, and work together to coordinate your medical care and social and emotional support.

Our provider

Symptoms and diagnosis

Understanding lupus symptoms

Lupus is a complex chronic condition that affects your entire body.

Depending on the type of lupus you have, you may experience:   

  • Rashes

  • Hair loss

  • Constant cough or ongoing shortness of breath

  • Sores in the mouth or nose that last a few days

  • Frequent episodes of mouth sores

  • Joint stiffness or swelling in two or more joints that lasts for a few weeks

  • Constant chest pain that gets worse when you take deep breaths or cough, that lasts longer than 24 hours

  • Blood in the urine, foamy appearing urine

  • Morning puffiness in ankles/around eyes

  • New seizures

Diagnosing lupus

To diagnose lupus, your doctor might order blood or urine tests. They also could request a skin or tissue biopsy. During a biopsy, a small sample of skin or tissue is removed from your body and analyzed by a laboratory. In some cases, doctors will request a biopsy of your kidney tissue.

Learn what happens during a kidney biopsy

Frequently asked questions

Anyone can get lupus, but it is most common in women between the ages of 15 and 44. African American women are three times more likely to get lupus than Caucasian women. It is also more common in Hispanic, Asian and American Indian women, all of whom tend to develop lupus at a younger age and have more symptoms.

There is no cure for lupus. New and better treatments are available to control disease activity and improve survival and lifespans of lupus patients.

A flare is an increase in disease activity in one of more organ systems with signs and symptoms that can be measured. Your physician will tell you if the increase is enough to consider changing treatment. Lupus can flare up after times when the disease has been quiet. It is important to track your symptoms and triggers and share any changes with your physician.

Common triggers of lupus flares include:

  • Sunlight (always wear sunscreen and protective clothing)

  • Viral infections

  • Sulfur medications

  • Stress

More than 80 percent of lupus patients have fatigue. It is important to know the difference between fatigue and flares. You can manage fatigue with simple measures such as exercise, sleep hygiene and a healthy diet. Additional strategies for managing your fatigue should be discussed with your physician.

A good relationship with your lupus doctor will help you cope. It's important to be involved in your care. Our specialist will recommend self-management tools to help you with symptom tracking, monitoring your lupus triggers and tracking how your medications are working. We will recommend other things to help with oral ulcers, and ways to manage your energy, joint pain and hair loss.

Exercise and diet are also very important for individuals with lupus.

Exercise will help with joint pain by keeping joints flexible. It also helps people relax and sleep better. Doing exercises like yoga, walking, water aerobics and swimming are good for lupus patients.

A healthier diet can help decrease fatigue and will help ease pain and inflammation.

Treatments and research

Managing lupus

There is no cure for lupus. The goal of lupus treatment is to manage or “quiet” the disease. Proper management can reduce lupus flares. Lupus flares are times of increased disease activity.

Lupus treatments

The UW Health Lupus Clinic offers the latest medical treatment options to manage lupus. These include:

These medications prevent your immune system from being overactive. They include azathioprine, corticosteroids, hydroxychloroquine and mycophenolate

These medications are offered as injections. They can reduce your immune system’s activity. Infusion therapies include belimumab and cyclophosphamide.

Medications including acetaminophen and anti-inflammatories used to control pain, fever and inflammation.

Tests and prevention

Lupus self-management

Our extensive education program supports your lupus management needs.

Following are a few tips to help you manage your health. For even more ideas visit self-managment tools, ideas and resources or view our brochure (pdf).

What you can do

You are an important part of your lupus care. Lupus self-management tools include:

Eating the right mix of foods can help with lupus management. Talk to your doctor about the best diet for your lupus symptoms.

Regular exercise helps with joint pain. It can also improve sleep. Recommended activities include yoga, walking, water aerobics and swimming.

Lupus prevents your immune system from properly fighting infection. It’s important to stay healthy. Wash your hands regularly and get a pneumonia vaccine and an annual flu vaccine. Talk to your doctor about other vaccinations.

If you have lupus, you are at higher risk for blocked arteries, heart attack, heart failure and stroke. Get regular health screenings to check for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Eye and bone health exams are also recommended.

Keep a record of new or worsening symptoms. Share this record with your doctor. Your doctor will use this record to make treatment changes.

For some, lupus is made worse by certain triggers. These include sulfur-based drugs, smoking, ultraviolet light and medicines that make you sensitive to light. Other lupus triggers include stress and pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about avoiding lupus triggers and managing planned pregnancies.

Patient and support service

Finding support

The Wisconsin Chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America offers support groups across the state.

Online resources