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

There are four types of lupus, of which one mainly 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 the skin in the sun-exposed areas such as the hands, face, neck and upper back, develops lesions which can be substantial. Up to 5 in 100 people with DLE develop SLE, and 1 in 5 SLE sufferers develop DLE. Symptoms of DLE include red and 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.

Diagnosis can be made by history and physical examination; however, blood tests and a skin biopsy will also help diagnosis.


Lupus can not be cured, but it can be effectively managed. Sufferers of DLE have advised sun protection by 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)
Steroid injections where very thick skin lesions do not respond to steroid creams
Medications used in the treatment of malaria (e.g. hydroxychloroquine)
Drugs used in the treatment of psoriasis
Oral immunosuppressants

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

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