Glossary of Lupus Terms

A

Anemia

A low red blood cell count. Anemia is common in people with lupus and contributes to fatigue.1,8

Antibody

A protein in the blood that combines with other cells to neutralize bacteria and viruses that have invaded the body. In lupus, the body produces too many antibodies which then attack healthy tissues.2

Antiphospholipid antibody

A type of protein that attacks phospholipids which damages cells in the arteries and veins. In lupus, these antibodies can multiply and increase the risk of blood clots.2

Autoimmunity

Auto means self, so autoimmunity is a condition in which the immune system cannot tell foreign invaders (viruses, bacteria, fungi) from healthy tissue. In an autoimmune disease like lupus, the body creates antibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue.2

B

Biopsy

A test in which a small piece of tissue is cut away and analyzed to measure inflammation and damage. In people with lupus, skin and kidney biopsies are most common.3

C

Complete Blood Count (CBC)

A common blood test that measures the numbers of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.3

E

Edema

Swelling caused by fluid retention or inflammation or both.1

F

Fatigue

General fatigue, or tiredness that is not relieved by rest or a good night’s sleep, occurs in 90 percent of people with lupus at some point in their disease. Also called malaise.1,8

Flare

An increase in disease activity or worsening of symptoms. In autoimmune diseases like lupus, flares come and go, and can be mild, moderate, or severe. Symptoms can be different in type and severity from one flare to another.4

G

Glucocorticoid

A class of drugs that are steroid hormones. These steroids fight inflammation and suppress the immune system but taken long-term can have serious side effects.5

I

Immunosuppressant

A group of drugs that stop or limit reactions of the body’s immune system. Also called immune modulators or immunosuppressives.5

L

Lesion

A skin sore. In lupus, lesions may be raised, red, and weep fluid.

Lupus

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic, autoimmune disease that affects the whole body. Cutaneous lupus affects only the skin.6

Lupus nephritis

Inflammation of the kidneys – lupus nephritis is a serious complication of lupus that results in kidney damage.

M

Malar rash

Malar means cheek. A rash that spreads across the cheeks and nose. It is common in people with lupus.2 It is more commonly known as the “butterfly rash.”

N

NSAIDs

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are a group of drugs that reduce inflammation, which can help control pain and joint stiffness.5

Nephrologist

A doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating kidney conditions.

O

Osteoporosis

A weakening of the bones that makes breaks (fractures) more likely. Osteoporosis is a common complication of lupus.8

P

Photosensitivity

A condition in which the skin overreacts to exposure to ultraviolet light causing rashes and sometimes sores. Also called sun or light sensitivity.1

R

Raynaud’s Phenomenon

A condition in which the tips of the fingers or toes turn white, blue, red, or purple causing pain, numbness, and tingling.1

Remission

The period between flares when symptoms are mild and controlled by self-care and medications. Remission can be weeks, months, or years long.

Rheumatologist

A doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions of the immune system such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and gout.

S

Sjogren’s Syndrome

A chronic autoimmune disorder in which the glands that produce tears and saliva do not work correctly. This causes dry eyes and dry mouth. About 10 percent of people with lupus also have Sjogren’s syndrome.8

T

Thrombocytopenia

A low blood platelet count. This mild-to-serious complication of lupus can prevent blood from clotting properly and cause bruising, skin discolorations from petechiae, nosebleeds, and complications during and after surgery.7

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Written by: Jessica Johns Pool | Last reviewed: January 2020