Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can cause the body to attack its own organs and cells, leading to inflammation, pain, and swelling that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. Lupus affects various parts of the body, including the skin, joints, heart, lungs, blood, kidneys, and brain, as the immune system cannot distinguish between healthy cells and foreign germs or viruses.
Despite the chronic nature of the condition, it is possible to manage and reduce the symptoms of lupus with an accurate diagnosis, a well-designed treatment plan, and careful management. With early diagnosis and appropriate treatment, many people with lupus are able to manage their symptoms and lead a full, healthy life. In this article, we outline the primary symptoms of lupus. Given how the symptoms of lupus can often be misdiagnosed, it’s helpful to research this information online before consulting a doctor.
1. Skin Rashes
Individuals with autoimmune diseases often experience skin rashes, and those with lupus commonly develop a distinctive type of rash called a malar or butterfly rash. This rash appears on the ears, arms, chest, and face, with the cheeks and nose commonly affected. The rash takes the form of a red, blotchy pattern that resembles butterfly wings.
It can worsen with prolonged exposure to sunlight or heat. Because the rash is an autoimmune response, it does not typically respond well to topical treatments. Diagnosis of lupus may be delayed if the rash is the only symptom present, and it may initially appear in a small area before spreading to other parts of the body.
2. Nasal and Oral Lesions
The majority of people with lupus experience the development of painful sores or lesions inside their mouth or nose, similar to canker sores. These sores can cause significant discomfort while eating, drinking, or speaking. In some cases, sores inside the nostrils may restrict breathing and cause pain when touched.
Photosensitivity is another common symptom, which can cause skin lesions after prolonged exposure to sunlight. While the link between lupus skin lesions and sunlight is not entirely clear, many people report that their skin problems worsen after being in the sun. If you experience these symptoms, it’s crucial to seek medical attention from your doctor for proper diagnosis and management.
3. Inflammation of the Joints
Joint pain and inflammation are common symptoms of lupus that typically affect the hands, feet, legs, ankles, hips, and knees. Joint inflammation is often one of the first signs of lupus, and it can cause sudden extreme pain and weakness in an otherwise energetic person. This symptom usually prompts people to visit their doctor for a definitive diagnosis.
The immune system attacks the body’s own tissues, mistaking them for outside intruders, leading to inflammation and pain. Although the pain is generally mild, it can become severe without prompt diagnosis and treatment. Fortunately, medications are available to reduce the severity of these symptoms. Proper management can help individuals with lupus.
Exposure to sunlight can cause lupus patients to develop blisters or experience flare-ups of existing skin abnormalities and lesions. However, photosensitivity associated with lupus and other autoimmune disorders can manifest in several other ways.
While sunlight typically boosts people’s enjoyment of the outdoors and mood, people with lupus may experience headaches or other intolerances to bright light and sunshine that can occur abruptly, even in those leading normal, active, and healthy lives, without prior history of photosensitivity or sunlight exposure problems.
5. Headache and Fever
The subtle symptoms of lupus can be troubling as they often persist for extended periods and are more generalized, making them difficult to identify. For instance, individuals with lupus commonly experience ongoing feverish sensations and migraine headaches, and doctors may treat the symptoms without identifying their root cause, providing only temporary relief.
These symptoms are particularly problematic as they are non-specific and associated with various medical conditions and non-serious illnesses, including the common cold and flu. Headaches are often dismissed as part of daily life. It is essential to have any ongoing symptoms medically investigated, regardless of their severity at the time.
6. Pains in the Chest
Severe pain and inflammation associated with lupus can spread into major organs, such as the lungs, leading to inflammation and chest pain. Inflammation of the lungs due to immune system disruption causes them to swell and press against the rib cage, causing ongoing ache.
If left untreated, the patient is at risk of developing pneumonia, which can lead to significant health risks. Symptoms of pneumonia include high fever, chills, productive cough, and shortness of breath. If you complain of lingering chest pain that intensifies over time and other autoimmune disorder symptoms, your doctor may suspect lupus if you develop pneumonia.
7. Losing Hair
Lupus, like other autoimmune diseases, can disrupt normal body cell growth, leading to visible symptoms such as abnormal hair growth. Patients with lupus and those taking specific lupus drugs may experience inhibited hair growth or total hair loss, affecting both male and female patients.
Hair loss occurs due to disruptions in the body’s ability to support the normal hair growth cycle, resulting from the overall tendency of the disease to mistake its own tissues for outside intruders. Hair loss symptoms may be relieved by switching to alternative medications or discontinuing the problematic drug altogether.
8. Blue Fingers
Raynaud’s phenomenon is a troubling symptom of lupus that causes occasional blood flow restriction to the fingers. This phenomenon can result in the fingers turning blue and going numb due to a lack of oxygenated blood. A sudden rush of blood then flows into the extremities, causing them to turn flush and become hot.
During this phase, fingers may tingle and throb, causing physical irritation. Fortunately, Raynaud’s phenomenon generally does not pose a significant threat to ongoing health. Although the condition can be disconcerting, seeking prompt medical attention and treatment can help bring the symptoms under control.
Fatigue and exhaustion are common symptoms that lupus patients experience, even if the disease is being treated. Lupus can interfere with energy levels in several ways, including disrupting normal sleep patterns, chronic pain, and the use of certain medications. The ongoing nature of lupus treatment can lead to a permanent decline in quality of life.
If you experience these symptoms, it is crucial to report them to your doctor and management team to receive appropriate interventions to restore energy levels and balance your mood. Other therapies, including medication adjustments, counseling, and lifestyle modifications, can also help manage fatigue and improve quality of life.
10. Kidney Problems
Lupus can also affect the kidneys, making waste elimination challenging. If this becomes an issue for lupus patients, it can lead to urinary tract issues. For instance, kidney inflammation can result in urine discoloration, urgent urination, foul-smelling urine, and painful urination. Lupus patients may even see blood traces in their urine.
However, you should note that urinary abnormalities are considered to be a relatively uncommon symptom of lupus. If you experience this symptom in isolation, it is most likely caused by something else, such as underlying kidney or liver problems, a urinary tract infection, or a sexually transmitted infection.