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How Lupus Affects the Lungs and Pulmonary System  

Lupus causes inflammation, which may affect the lungs in a wide variety of ways. In some cases, inflammation from lupus can involve the membrane lining the lungs, blood vessels within the lungs, the diaphragm, and even the lungs themselves.

About half of all people with the most common type of lupus, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), experience lung problems, according to Johns Hopkins Lupus Center.


Lupus can cause inflammation of the pleura, which is the lining covering the outside of the lungs. This inflammation, known as pleuritis or pleurisy, can cause severe and often sharp, stabbing chest pain. Taking a deep breath, coughing, sneezing, and laughing can worsen the pain. Shortness of breath may also occur. Fluid may also build up in the space between the lungs and chest wall, in a condition known as pleural effusion. Approximately 40 to 60 percent of people with lupus develop pleuritis, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.


Pneumonitis is inflammation within lung tissue, which can cause fever, chest pain, shortness of breath, and cough. The most common causes of pneumonitis include bacterial, viral, and fungal infection.

Chronic diffuse interstitial lung disease

Chronic inflammation in the lungs can result in scarring, also known as interstitial lung disease. This scarring may prevent oxygen from moving from the lungs into the blood. Widespread, or diffuse, scarring can cause a chronic (long term) dry cough, chest pain, and trouble breathing during physical activity.

Pulmonary emboli

Pulmonary emboli are blood clots that block the arteries leading to the lungs. These blood clots can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and decreased oxygen flow in the lungs. Certain health conditions, such as antiphospholipid syndrome (APS) and blood vessel damage, can increase the risk for pulmonary emboli; an inactive lifestyle also increases the risk.

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