Skip to Main Content

We have a new app!

Take the Access library with you wherever you go—easy access to books, videos, images, podcasts, personalized features, and more.

Download the Access App here: iOS and Android. Learn more here!

For further information, see CMDT PART 6-15: CUTANEOUS LUPUS ERYTHEMATOSUS

Key Features

Essentials of Diagnosis

  • 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

  • Distinctive histology

  • Photosensitivity

General Considerations

  • Two most common forms of chronic cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CCLE)

    • Chronic scarring lesions (discoid lupus erythematosus [DLE])

    • Erythematous non scarring red plaques (subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus [SCLE])

  • Ten percent of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) have discoid skin lesions, and 5% of patients with discoid lesions have SLE

  • The disease is persistent but not life endangering unless systemic lupus supervenes, which is uncommon

  • Treatment with antimalarials is effective in perhaps 60% of cases

  • Some medications may induce SCLE with a positive Ro/SSA, most commonly

    • Hydrochlorothiazide

    • Calcium channel blockers

    • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors

    • Tumor necrosis factor inhibitors

    • Terbinafine

Clinical Findings

Symptoms and Signs

  • Usually mild

  • DLE 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)

    • There is atrophy, telangiectasia, central depigmentation or scarring, a hyperpigmented rim, and follicular plugging

    • Significant permanent hair loss may occur on the scalp

  • SCLE lesions

    • Are erythematous annular or psoriasiform plaques

    • Measure up to several centimeters in diameter

    • Favor the upper chest and back

Differential Diagnosis

  • Psoriasis

  • Seborrheic dermatitis

  • Acne rosacea

  • Lupus vulgaris (cutaneous tuberculosis)

  • Sarcoidosis

  • Bowen disease (squamous cell carcinoma in situ)

  • Polymorphous light eruption

  • Lichen planopilaris


Laboratory Tests

  • 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

    • Arthralgias/arthritis

    • Hypocomplementemia

    • Widespread lesions (not localized to the head)

    • Nailfold changes (dilated or thrombosed nailfold capillary loops)

  • Patients with marked photosensitivity and a picture otherwise suggestive of lupus may have negative ANA tests but are positive for antibodies against Ro/SSA or La/SSB (SCLE)

Diagnostic Procedures

  • Skin biopsy used to confirm diagnosis



General measures

  • Use photoprotective clothing and sunblock with UVB and UVA coverage daily

  • Avoid using drugs that are potentially photosensitizing (eg, doxycycline) when possible

  • Caution: Do not use any form of radiation therapy

Local treatment

  • High-potency corticosteroid creams applied each night and covered with airtight plastic film (eg, Saran Wrap) or Cordran tape; or ultra-high-potency corticosteroid cream or ointment applied twice daily without occlusion

  • Local infiltration

    • Triamcinolone ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.