Lupus Types

The three types of lupus are systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), discoid lupus (DLE) and drug-induced lupus. Systemic lupus erythematosus is the most common and most severe type. Discoid lupus erythematosus is limited to the skin but, in rare cases, can evolve into systemic lupus erythematosus. Drug-induced lupus can result from taking certain prescription medications and subsides once the medication is stopped.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Systemic lupus erythematosus is a form of lupus that has spread to different parts of the body. The symptoms of SLE may be as mild as skin and joint discomfort, or can be serious and affect numerous vital organs, including the lungs, kidneys and heart.

At its worst, SLE can be life-threatening. Most individuals with SLE experience intermittent flare ups of symptoms followed by remission. Systemic lupus erythematosus is a chronic condition.

When I Say “Lupus”…

Most frequently, an individual with “lupus” is referring to systemic lupus erythematosus.

Discoid Lupus

Discoid lupus affects only the skin. The term discoid refers to the characteristic coin-shaped skin rashes known as malar erythema. “Butterfly” rashes are a typical form DLE rashes take and generally appear as small, flaky, red rashes on the nose and cheeks. Discoid lupus may also appear in other places on the body. Rashes on the scalp inhibit the growth of hair, thereby creating bald patches on those with scalp DLE. Rashes on the trunk, arms or legs are harder to diagnose as DLE due to their sembalnce to other skin conditions like rosacea and eczema.

Discoid lupus can be the primary symptom for the onset of systemic lupus erythematosus. In up to ten percent of cases, discoid lupus can affect any organ in the body and may progress to SLE. This progression of discoid lupus is neither predictable nor preventable.

Drug-Induced Lupus

Drug-induced Lupus is a third type of lupus that occurs with the use of certain prescription drugs. Drug-induced lupus has the same symptoms as systemic lupus erythematosus, however, unlike SLE, symptoms disappear within six weeks of discontinuing the drug. The drugs most likely to stimulate the onset of drug-induced lupus are cardiovascular medications. The two most likely suspects are:

  • Procainamide, one of the drugs used to treat irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias), is the most common cause of drug-induced lupus.
  • Hydralazine, a high blood pressure medication, is the second most common cause of drug-induced lupus.

Other drugs responsible for the onset of drug-induced lupus are:

  • isoniazid: tuberculosis medication
  • quinidine: heart arrhythmia medication
  • phenytoin or dilantin: anti-seizure medication.

More men than women are prone to drug-induced lupus. The high incidence of cardiovascular disease in men and the need for prescription medication to control blood pressure and maintain heart rhythms make men primary candidates for drug-induced lupus.

Drug-Induced Lupus: Not as Common as You Might Think

While men are more prone to drug-induced lupus due to their need for cardiovascular medications, the prevalence of drug-induced lupus is still fairly low. Only about four percent of the people taking drugs responsible for the onset of drug-induced lupus actually develop symptoms.


Beers, M.H.