Lupus and Kidney Disease

Lupus is also called Systemic Lupus erythromatosis (SLE). It is inflammatory disease. It causes the immune system to attack various systems of the body including the skin, heart, lungs, joints, nervous system, blood vessels and kidneys. It’s called systemic because it can affect the whole body.

How does lupus affect the body?

Lupus prevents antibodies from working properly. With lupus, the antibodies aren’t able to tell the difference between harmful foreign substances and the body’s own healthy cells and tissue. As a result, the immune system attacks its own body parts, causing varying degrees of inflammation and organ damage, including kidneys.

What is the cause of lupus?

To date, the cause of lupus is unknown; however it has been linked to heredity and environmental factors.

Who are people at risk of developing lupus?

Lupus targets around 90 percent of women in their childbearing years. It also occurs more often in minorities, particularly African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans.

Symptoms of Lupus

Lupus affects different organs in the body. That is why no two lupus patients will have identical symptoms. Common symptoms are:

  • fever
  • joint pain
  • fatigue and appetite loss
  • "butterfly” rash on the face
  • sensitivity to sunlight
  • ulcers of the mouth and nose
  • poor blood flow in the fingers and toes with cold exposure (called Raynaud's phenomenon)

How can lupus affect the kidneys?

Lupus nephritis is a term for kidney disease that occurs in lupus patients. With this disease, the tiny filters in the kidneys are damaged resulting in a loss of kidney function. This may lead to fluid accumulation (retention) and swelling of the body, called edema. Other signs of lupus nephritis include:

  • Blood in urine, your urine may look pink or light brown from blood
  • Protein in urine, your urine may be foamy because of the protein
  • High blood pressure
  • Weight gain due to fluid retention
  • Some patients with lupus nephritis may develop kidney diseasethat could lead to renal failure

Treatments for Lupus

Lupus is treated with drugs that block your body's immune system. Patients are different and your doctor will make a treatment plan that is right for you. Usually treatment for lupus nephritis includes:  

  • Corticosteroids (often called “steroids”)
  • Immunosuppressive drugs
  • ACE inhibitors and ARBs
  • Diuretics
  • Diet change, reducing salt (sodium) and protein in your diet to decrease the load of wastes on the kidneys
  • Lifestyle changes, which include staying out of the sun, wearing sunblock, avoiding stress, getting enough sleep, regular exercise and avoid smoking

In the event of kidney failure:

If your kidneys fail, you can be treated with dialysis or a kidney transplant. Lupus patients do as well with these treatments as people who have other types of kidney disease.

Learn more about Lupus Nephritis

Disclaimer: The UCLA Health System cannot guarantee the accuracy of such information. The information is provided without warranty or guarantee of any kind. Please speak to your Physician before making any changes.