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Discoid Lupus Erythematosus


Updated June 30, 2014

Discoid lupus erythematosus distinguishes itself from systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) through the severity of rashes. In SLE, a malar rash in a butterfly pattern may appear across the nose and cheeks of the patients, or red rashes may develop in reaction to sunlight. But in discoid lupus, chronic inflammatory sores develop on the face, ears, scalp and on other body areas.

These lesions can be crusty and scaling and often scar. Some patients report lesions and scarring on the scalp, making hair re-growth impossible in those areas. A skin biopsy is used to diagnose discoid lupus in these cases, as other diseases can look the same.

It is possible for the disease to spread to internal organs. Once the disease moves to internal organs, it becomes SLE. About 10 percent of discoid lupus patients develop SLE.

As with other forms of lupus, it is a case of the body attacking normal skin. The exact cause of this form is unknown, although women are more likely to have it and it has been shown to run in families. Cigarette smoking and sunlight have been shown to exacerbate the condition.

Of note, more females than males seem to develop the illness, at a rate of 3 to 1.


Often, a person with discoid can control the severity of his or her lesions by applying cortisone ointment or having a physician administer cortisone injections. Injections are usually the more effective option. Also, creams that are calcineurin inhibitors will assist in treating lesions, such as pimecrolimus cream and tacrolimus ointment.

There is a branded drug on the market, Plaquenil, which may help improve the condition of discoid lesions. However, patients will be required to take yearly eye exams to ensure the prevention of retina damage. In fact, six month follow-ups are often recommended.

One other standard treatment is avoiding sun exposure.


Discoid Lupus Erythematosus American Osteopathic College of Dermatology

Definition of Discoid lupus. MedicineNet.com.

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