Lupus series: Types, triggers and risk (it's higher for women)

Learn the types and risks of lupus, who’s more likely to get it and what triggers flares


Lupus is a tricky disease. For instance, some people think the main type of this autoimmune condition is a skin rash or sores (lesions). While it’s true that lupus may cause a rash that most often appears on areas that are exposed to the sun — such as the face, neck, arms, and legs — it can affect other organs in the body because it takes a few different forms. Women are at a higher risk for lupus and can have different symptoms than men.

The different types of lupus:

  • Cutaneous lupus erythematosus only affects the skin.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common and serious form of the disease; all parts of the body are affected.
  • Drug-induced lupus is a short-term form of the disease caused by certain medicines.
  • Neonatal lupus is rare and affects newborn babies.

Lupus and the risk of other health problems for women

Lupus affects more women than men and raises the risk for other health problems that are common in women, including:

  • Heart disease. Lupus raises the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) because they have more risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes.
  • Kidney disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that kidney problems occur in half of all people with lupus. These problems often start within the first five years after lupus symptoms begin to appear. If you have lupus, it’s important to have regular urine and blood tests for kidney disease.
  • Osteoporosis. If you’re taking certain medicines to treat lupus, they may cause bone loss. This can lead to osteoporosis, which is a condition that makes bones weak and more easily broken. Try to stay active if you can — it can help prevent bone loss.

Lupus and women of color

According to the CDC, lupus is more likely to appear in Hispanic, Asian, African American and Alaskan Native women. The Lupus Foundation of America states that one in 537 young African American women are impacted by lupus.

Women of color are more likely to be affected by these lupus symptoms:

  • African American and Hispanic women are usually younger when they get lupus. Their symptoms are also more severe.
  • African Americans have more chance of seizures, strokes and dangerous swelling of the heart.
  • One recent study showed that 49.4 percent of Hispanics and 53.2 percent of Asians with lupus had kidney disease. This is compared to 25.4 percent among whites.

Research is ongoing to find out why lupus affects women more in certain groups. Studies suggest genes may have something to do with it.

Be on the lookout for common lupus triggers

Any woman with lupus could have symptoms that get worse sometimes. If that happens to you, you’re having what’s called a “flare.” Even if you’re faithfully taking your medicine and caring for yourself, some things may still trigger a flare. Learn how to tell what those triggers are so you can avoid or prevent them. Triggers may include:

  • Working too much
  • Not getting enough rest
  • Being under stress
  • Having an infection
  • Staying out in the sun too long
  • Dealing with an injury

You won’t have lupus symptoms all the time, since it’s usually one or more triggers that cause a flare. But when you do, those symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Prolonged or extreme fatigue

You can learn about these symptoms and more here.

Lupus can be managed

We’ve talked about the types and risks of lupus, as well as who’s more likely to get it and what triggers flares. It may feel like there’s a lot to learn as you are coping with this disease. But here’s the most important thing of all: Lupus is manageable — and now it’s easier to manage than it was in the past because of medical advances. Having the right diagnosis and proper treatment gives you a chance to live a full and productive life. You can do it.

Lupus is manageable — and now it’s easier to manage than it was in the past because of medical advances. 

Now that you know more about lupus, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor if you feel you’re at risk for the disease. If you’re looking for a primary care doctor, you can search for one who’s right for you in our provider directory. Or you can find one using a regional directory below:







6 truths about lupus you should know

Lift yourself out of osteoporosis pain? Weights could be the answer for you!

When you’ve overdone your time in the sun

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Lupus in Women

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Lupus Symptoms

Lupus Foundation of America


About the Author

The Providence Women's Health team is committed to providing useful and actionable insights, tips and advice to ensure women of all types can live their healthiest lives.

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