Chronic cutaneous lupus, or discoid lupus, causes skin lesions (sores). These lesions usually occur on your scalp or face. Discoid lesions are not typically painful or itchy. There is no cure for discoid lupus, but treatment can help. These lesions can increase your risk for skin cancer, so it’s important to protect your skin.
Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) is a type of cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE). Cutaneous refers to skin. CLE includes types of lupus that affect your skin.
People with discoid lupus get round sores, usually on their face or scalp. Another name for discoid lupus is chronic cutaneous lupus.
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What most people call lupus is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). SLE is the most common type of lupus. About 70% of people who have lupus have SLE.
SLE causes widespread inflammation in your body. People with lupus often have:
There are three types of CLE. Each type causes a different skin rash:
Some people only have SLE, CLE or another type of lupus. Others have multiple types of lupus.
Most people who have discoid lupus do not have another type of lupus. Only about 5% of people with discoid lupus also develop SLE. About one in four people with SLE develop lesions that look like discoid lesions.
About two out of every three people who have systemic lupus also have symptoms of cutaneous lupus. Discoid lupus is the most common type of CLE.
Experts don’t know what causes lupus, including discoid lupus. Lupus and other autoimmune diseases tend to run in families.
You have a higher risk for developing chronic cutaneous lupus if you are:
Discoid lupus causes round, coin-shaped lesions (sores). The sores most commonly develop on your scalp and face, but they may show up on other parts of your body.
Discoid lesions typically do not hurt or itch. They may be scaly, thick or red. When the lesions go away, they may leave scars or skin discoloration.
If a discoid lupus rash occurs on your scalp, it may cause hair loss. If a scar forms on your scalp, the hair loss may be permanent.
Rarely, people may develop chilblain lupus erythematosus. Chilblain lupus causes purple skin patches or lesions that worsen after exposure to cold temperatures. These lesions are often very painful.
During a biopsy, your dermatologist takes a small skin sample. The provider sends the skin sample to a laboratory, where specialists examine it under a microscope. Looking at the skin sample under a microscope can tell healthcare providers whether skin sores are due to discoid lupus or another condition.
Depending on how severe your symptoms are, your healthcare provider may recommend medications. These medications can reduce discoid lupus symptoms.
Some research suggests that medications are helpful for about 60% of people with cutaneous lupus. Discoid lupus treatment may include:
In up to 70% of people who have CLE, their symptoms worsen after exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. If you have lupus, you need to take extra caution around UV rays.
To prevent discoid lupus symptom flare-ups and protect yourself from light exposure:
There is no way to prevent lupus. If you have discoid lupus, you can manage symptoms by avoiding sun exposure. To reduce chances of infection and scarring, you should avoid scratching or picking at sores.
Lupus is a lifelong condition. With treatment, many people with discoid lupus experience symptom relief. Taking precautions around UV rays can keep symptoms from worsening.
You may also want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Discoid lupus is the most common type of lupus that affects your skin. People with discoid lupus typically develop round skin lesions. These lesions usually are not painful, but they can increase your risk for skin cancer. To prevent discoid lupus lesions, limit your exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. There is no cure for discoid lupus, but treatment can help you manage symptoms and avoid flare-ups.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/13/2021.
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