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  • Localized violaceous red plaques, usually on the head (discoid lupus erythematosus) or the trunk (chronic cutaneous lupus erythematosus).

  • Scaling, follicular plugging, atrophy, dyspigmentation, and telangiectasia of involved areas.

  • Photosensitivity.

  • Distinctive histology.


Common forms of cutaneous lupus include chronic cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CCLE), typically chronic scarring (discoid) lupus erythematosus (DLE), and erythematous nonscarring red plaques of subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus (SCLE). All occur most frequently in photoexposed areas (eFigure 6–45). Permanent hair loss and loss of pigmentation are common sequelae of discoid lesions. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is discussed in Chapter 20. Patients with SLE may have DLE or SCLE lesions.

eFigure 6–45.

Lupus erythematosus: photodistribution. (Reproduced, with permission, from Bondi EE, Jegasothy BV, Lazarus GS [editors]. Dermatology: Diagnosis & Treatment. Originally published by Appleton & Lange. Copyright © 1991 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.)


A. Symptoms and Signs

Symptoms are usually mild. In DLE, the lesions consist of violaceous red, well-localized, single or multiple plaques, 5–20 mm in diameter, usually on the face, scalp, and external ears (conchal bowl) (eFigure 6–46)(eFigure 6–47). In discoid lesions, there is atrophy, telangiectasia, central depigmentation or scarring, a hyperpigmented rim, and follicular plugging. On the scalp, significant permanent hair loss may occur. In SCLE, the lesions are erythematous annular or psoriasiform plaques up to several centimeters in diameter and favor the upper chest and back (eFigure 6–48).

eFigure 6–46.

Discoid lupus erythematosus of the arm. (Used, with permission, from Lindy Fox, MD).

eFigure 6–47.

Discoid lupus of the face and ear in a darkly pigmented patient. (Used with permission, from Lindy Fox, MD.)

eFigure 6–48.

Subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus: erythematous nonscarring red plaques on the back. (Used, with permission, from Lindy Fox, MD).

B. Laboratory Findings

In patients with DLE, SLE should be considered if the following findings are present: positive antinuclear antibody (ANA), other positive serologic studies (eg, anti-double-stranded DNA or anti-Smith antibody), high erythrocyte sedimentation rate, proteinuria, hypocomplementemia, widespread lesions (not localized to the head), nail fold changes (dilated or thrombosed nail fold capillary loops), or arthralgias with or without arthritis. Patients with marked photosensitivity and symptoms otherwise suggestive of lupus may have negative ANA tests but are positive for antibodies against Ro/SSA or La/SSB (SCLE).


The diagnosis is based on the clinical appearance confirmed by skin biopsy in all cases. In DLE, the scales are dry and “thumbtack-like” and can ...

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