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How Lupus Affects the Skin

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects many body systems, including the joints, lungs, digestive system, kidneys, eyes, and central nervous system. 

Most people with lupus will have some skin involvement during the course of their condition. In fact, nearly 70% of people with lupus will develop some form of skin disease. Lupus-related skin disease often causes rashes and sores that are triggered or worsened by sun exposure.

When lupus strikes the skin, the first step is to visit a dermatologist. Here at Hines Dermatology, leading dermatology specialist Yvonne Hines, MD, and our highly skilled clinical team have extensive experience diagnosing and treating chronic conditions that affect the hair, skin, and nails.

Lupus causes three main types of skin disease, along with other lupus-specific skin manifestations. It’s crucial to visit a dermatologist for a comprehensive evaluation of the extent of the skin involvement. In the hands of an expert who specializes in stubborn, difficult-to-treat skin conditions, patients can gain control of their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Chronic cutaneous lupus erythematosus

Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) is the most common form of chronic cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CCLE). It is characterized by round lesions shaped like discs. The sores most commonly develop on the face and scalp.

Lesions of this type are usually thick, red, and scaly, and they may cause skin discoloration. When they occur on the scalp, they may cause hair loss. Because of the heightened risk of skin cancer, dermatologists monitor these lesions carefully for any changes.

Patients with DLE must avoid direct sunlight during certain hours and use plenty of sunscreen when outdoors. If you’re diagnosed with this type of cutaneous lupus, Dr. Hines will provide guidance on how to best take care of your skin.

Subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus

Subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus (SCLE) is nonscarring dermatosis that develops on parts of the body exposed to the sun, such as the shoulders, upper back, neck, and upper torso. SCLE causes lesions that have distinct edges, but these sores do not itch, and they’re not scaly. 

Additionally, SCLE is often resistant to typical treatments such as steroid cream. For patients with SCLE, Dr. Hines recommends a treatment regimen to reduce disease activity and limit damage to the skin.

Acute cutaneous lupus erythematosus

Acute cutaneous lupus erythematosus (ACLE) is the most common form of cutaneous lupus linked to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). ACLE occurs when SLE is active. Lesions characteristic of ACLE develop in areas exposed to sunlight. It’s crucial for patients with ACLE to protect their skin while outdoors.  

Lupus can cause other skin conditions, including mouth sores and blistering. Dermatologists use specific criteria to evaluate your skin and get to the root of the problem. For a definitive answer, Dr. Hines can perform a biopsy of the skin.

Treatment for lupus-specific skin conditions

Treatment for lupus-specific skin disease commonly involves medication to suppress immune system activity. Dr. Hines recommends an individualized treatment plan to address symptoms that may involve a multidisciplinary approach. 

Because lupus affects many body systems, collaborating with experts in disciplines such as rheumatology, nephrology, and neurology helps to ensure the best outcome.

Dr. Hines offers the latest advancements in dermatology to treat conditions that affect the skin, ranging from acne to complex lupus-related lesions. 

Contact our Attleboro, Massachusetts, office if you have lupus and notice changes to your skin. Call us at 508-222-1976 or book online to schedule an appointment. Another option is to send a message to Dr. Hines and the team here on our website.

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