Home / Acupuncture and Lupus

Acupuncture and Lupus – Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (or Lupus) is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system attacks tissues of the body mistakenly. As a multi-faceted disease, it has numerous manifestations and can affect any part of the body. The exact etiology of the disease is unknown even though a number of factors have been identified as being causative. Clinical findings have shown that patients afflicted with the disease experience vasculopathy, inflammation, immune complex deposition and vasculitis.

Though the exact causes of the disease remain elusive, there has been an observable and aggressive familial trait about the disease that typically affects first-degree relatives of patients. In addition, research findings by Pisetsky DS (1997) show that the disease may manifest in combination with other organ specific autoimmune conditions which may also be brought about by genetic causes such as thyroiditis, immune thrombocytopenic purpura and haemolytic anaemia. That said, there are many cases where the condition occurs due to other factors, showing that genetic traits are not the only cause.

The good news is that acupuncture and Chinese medicine have been proven to be a safe and effective treatment for the symptoms of Lupus erythematosus. Before we discuss the efficacy of this form of alternative medicine let’s take a closer look at the prevalence, symptoms, causes and treatments of this disease.

Prevalence of the condition

Lupus erythematosus is seen more in women than men, with a ratio of 10:1 respectively. The condition has further been identified to affect African-American women more than Caucasian women. Cervera R et al. (2003) also show the condition to specifically affects women during their child-bearing years. Overall, prevalence of the disease is estimated to be at 1 in every 1000 people.

One study carried out in the UK by Johnson AE et al. (1995) found the prevalence of the condition to be 27.7 out of every 100,000 people in the general population. The study also indicated a higher prevalence in Afro-Caribbean women than in other ethnic groupings. A survey done on national health in the USA also found a frequency of 241/100,000. However, the figure is likely to have been a gross overestimation of the real situation. After further investigations, self-reporting and prescription information were found to have shot up the numbers and the figure was reduced to 53.6/100,000(Ward MM , 2004).

Variants of the disease

As an autoimmune disease, lupus may affect patients in four main varieties. These include;

  • Neonatal and pediatric lupus erythematosus (NLE); a very rare form of the condition that occurs in newborns. The mother’s autoantibodies are suspected to be the main cause as they may travel through the placenta. It develops in about 1% of patients. The signs and symptoms of the disease may disappear spontaneously during the first 4 to 6 months after birth.
  • Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE); occurs as atrophic photosensitive dermatosis which may progress to become SLE or develop in patients with SLE. It occurs mostly in women between the ages of 20 and 40 years.
  • Drug induced lupus (DIL); a form of the condition that occurs because of exposure to medication that causes the autoimmune response. It can affect different organ systems but the condition subsides once the medication causing it is discontinued.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE); the most common form of the disease and the focus in research and review of the condition, it is commonly referred to as just Lupus. It is different from the other forms due to its multi-organ effects. It may affect both sexes at any age even though women at childbearing age are the most affected.

Causes of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

The disease is not fully understood by the medical world and the main causes are not established. However, genetics is one of the most common factors. It is typically believed that Lupus is influenced by multiple gene polymorphisms, 30 of which have now been linked with the disorder.  Some of these polymorphisms have been linked very tentatively however, as the role that they play or the degree to which they influence the disease is unknown. Environmental factors, lifestyle choices and addictions can also play a role in the etiology of this disorder.

Symptoms of this condition

Lupus occurs in flare-ups and periods of subsidence. As a disease that affects various regions of the body, it presents different symptoms for different patients. Some of the well-known symptoms include;

  • Muscle pain
  • Swelling and pain in joints
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Pale or purple fingers and toes
  • Fatigue
  • Red rash especially on the face
  • Swollen glands
  • Chest pains especially when you take deep breaths
  • Sensitivity to the sun
  • Fever

Western treatment of the disease

Lupus has a multi-faceted approach to treatment that deals with three main aspects of the condition. First, treatment is administered to manage flare-ups of the condition which can be life threatening. Secondly, treatment is also administered to reduce the chances of acute attacks when the condition subsides. Lastly, patients are also treated for everyday symptoms which may not be life-threatening but are debilitating.

Since lupus is not fully understood, most of the treatments offered have an immunosuppressive action and thus may have some adverse effects. Hydroxychloroquine is one of the mild medications used and treats fatigue, joint pains and skin disease. Treatment can also involve anti-inflammatory, non-steroidal drugs. This, in some cases, is combined with the administration of methotrexate.

Acupuncture and the treatment of Lupus

The National Institutes of Health conducted a clinical study on the use of acupuncture in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. The researchers found that 10  acupuncture treatment session was a safe and very effective way for  patients with Systemic Lupus to reduce and control many of their symptoms. Acupuncture is proven to decrease pain and inflammation, reduce rash,  and lessen fatigue in patients with this condition. This study offers hope to  Lupus patients.

If you have been diagnosed with Lupus please take advantage of our free consultations. We’d love to show you how acupuncture works and how it can be effective in reducing and managing your symptoms. We have helped many of our patients with this condition and we are confident that we can help you too.



  1. Cervera R, Khamashta MA, Font J, Sebastiani GD, et al. European Working Party on Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Morbidity and mortality in systemic lupus erythematosus during a 10-year period: a comparison of early and late manifestations in a cohort of 1,000 patients. Medicine (Baltimore). 2003 Sep; 82(5):299-308.
  2. Johnson AE, Gordon C, Palmer RG, Bacon PA. The prevalence and incidence of systemic lupus erythematosus in Birmingham, England. Relationship to ethnicity and country of birth.
  3. Wikipedia – Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
  4. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) – Acupuncture and Lupus