Home » Lupus Erythematosus

Lupus Erythematosus

Lupus Erythematosus (LE) is a type of autoimmune illness. The disease can take various forms and may affect any part of the patient’s body. Most frequently, lupus attacks the skin, joints, heart, brain, lungs, kidneys, and circulatory system. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) report that there are approximately one hundred different autoimmune diseases. Quite often, autoimmune diseases like lupus present in a cluster of autoimmune disorders and rashes or lesions on the skin may indicate their presence in the body. Dr. Kathleen J. Smith, a triple board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist, evaluates, diagnoses, and treats patients with LE.

All autoimmune diseases involve an improper function of the patient’s immune system. The immune system attacks its own healthy cells or tissues because it doesn’t distinguish them from antigens like bacteria or viruses. Instead of producing antibodies to defeat antigens, the individual’s immune system generates auto-antibodies that target and ultimately damages itself. The inflammatory process associated with autoimmune diseases and a focal feature of lupus destroys the body’s tissues. Inflammation causes swelling, redness, and heat in the targeted area. The targeted tissues—internal organs or external skin tissues—may eventually suffer total loss of function. Dermatology Specialists of Atlanta diagnoses and treats patients with autoimmune diseases of the skin including Lupus Erythematosus.

Disease Management

Symptoms of lupus vary between patients. Some patients suffer mild symptoms and, with a doctor’s assistance, manage lupus as a chronic condition. For some patients, however, lupus becomes life-threatening. Medicine has no cure for the disease, but some symptoms may be treated with steroids or immunosuppressant drugs.

Since the disease is unlikely to follow a typical progression, patients may suffer flares of the disease at unpredictable times. When these flare stages resolve, the disease is considered in remission. Doctors determine the patient’s prognosis by determining the level of skin, joints, and/or organ involvement.

Risk Factors

Medical researchers don’t yet understand what causes some people to develop the disease. Some continue to ask if lupus is a single disease or actually a combination of several autoimmune diseases. For example, doctors know that lupus is likely to present along with other conditions, some of which have similar symptoms. Family history (genetics), environment (stress, UV radiation and exposures), and drug reactions (some drugs cause certain individuals to develop lupus-like symptoms, so this type may be reversible) are known to cause patients to develop symptoms associated with the disease.

Genetics can make the patient more likely to get lupus, but genetics aren’t the only determinant in the development of the disease. Researchers theorize that genetics play a role because lupus and/or other autoimmune conditions seem to run in families. Importantly, though, lifestyle is often shared by members of the same family. Lifestyle factors include diet, exercise, and stress management.

Environment may play a large role in the disease process. For instance, exposure to ultraviolet light may cause photosensitivity in the patient. Smoking, or the patient’s exposure to secondhand smoke, toxins (e.g. trichloroethylene in ground water), or silica dust may be implicated in the development of the disease.

Lupus isn’t an infectious disease, so a person with lupus can’t infect another person. Therefore, it’s not contagious. Autoimmune diseases like lupus are complex and happen when the patient’s immune system doesn’t work properly. The body starts to attack its healthy skin or organ tissues.


The Lupus Foundation of America reports that two million people have lupus. Approximately sixteen thousand people receive a new lupus diagnosis every year. Although people of any age can develop the disease, it is most commonly seen in individuals between the ages of fifteen and forty-five. Women represent ninety percent of lupus patients. Patients with concerns about lupus should contact Dermatology Specialists of Atlanta. Dr. Kathleen J. Smith is an experienced triple-board certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist.

Doctors believe that hormones may play a role in the development of autoimmune disease. High estrogen levels or hormone replacement therapy have been studied as precursors to the development of the disease. The body’s ability to break down estrogen (metalism) is also considered a potential lupus trigger.

The Lupus Foundation says that some viruses, such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) may be linked to the development of lupus in children. EBV antibodies are often present in individuals with lupus.


Since symptoms of lupus may be confused with other diseases, including other autoimmune disorders, the experience of the physician is important in identifying lupus. Some of the early symptoms include muscle or joint pain, general malaise or discomfort, fever, and feelings of fatigue. As the disease develops, new symptoms may include ulcers of the skin, including rashes and lesions. Malar rash, frequently referred to as butterfly rash, sometimes presents. The patient may suffer iron deficiency and heart conditions, such as endocarditis, pericarditis, or myocarditis. Inflammation of the lungs, such as pleuritis, may occur. Kidney problems, such as painless proteinuria or hematuria, may begin. The patient may also suffer seizures with no known cause.


The first step in treating Lupus Erythematosus involves evaluation. If the patient presents symptoms and has antinuclear antibodies (ANA) for lupus, the patient is likely to have the disease. However, a laboratory test is insufficient to diagnose lupus because some research suggests that ANAs may represent only the patient’s potential to contract the disease.


Prescription medicines are an important factor in managing lupus. There are many drugs available to treat the disease. Dr. Kathleen J. Smith will work with the diagnosed patient to reduce inflammation; prevent/treat flares, and minimize complications associated with lupus.

Since some researchers believe that lupus and lifestyle factors correlate, it’s important for patients to minimize stress, reduce if overweight, and get enough regular physical exercise.


Dermatology Specialists of Atlanta has the experience required to treat complex autoimmune diseases like LE that affect the skin. Patients in and around North Atlanta, Decatur, North Decatur, Tucker, Forest Park, Doraville, Sandy Springs, Druid Hills/North Druid Hills, and throughout greater metro Atlanta should call Dr. Kathleen J. Smith today at 678-904-4932.

American Society for Dermatologic Surgery Logo