Lupus Symptoms: What to Know
Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease. This means that the body perceives its organs and tissues as foreign and begins to attack itself.
It is considered systemic because it can affect many different organs and body systems – the skin, the joints, the lungs, the brain, the heart, and the kidneys, for example.
Lupus has many symptoms, many of which mimic other disorders. Because of this, lupus often takes a long time to diagnose or is misdiagnosed.
12 Lupus Symptoms to Know
Here we’ll discuss some of the more common symptoms of lupus and how each of these lupus symptoms are typically treated.
Please note that every person with lupus is different, meaning that although these are some of the more common symptoms, no two people have the same lupus symptoms.
Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms that is associated with lupus. In fact, it affects up to 90 percent of people. Experts are unsure why people with lupus also suffer from fatigue, but one theory is that many people also have a concurrent diagnosis of fibromyalgia – up to one-third of people have fibromyalgia!
Other conditions can also cause fatigue – anemia, depression, and side effects of medications. All of these can occur concurrently with lupus.
Treatment: The most obvious way to treat fatigue associated with lupus is to treat the underlying cause. Other ways to boost energy include regular exercise, ensure that you are getting enough sleep and realizing that you may need more than the standard eight hours, and conserving energy by prioritizing activities.
Hair loss is one of the first symptoms that are noticed. It occurs as a result of inflammation that occurs on the skin of the scalp. This symptom is nicknamed “lupus hair” because of the thin, brittle, ragged hair that results.
Hair loss that occurs on the scalp typically occurs gradually, but some people lose hair in large clumps. It typically affects the hair of our heads, but it can even affect our eyelashes, eyebrows, beards, and the hair on the rest of our bodies.
Treatment: Typically, the “real” treatment for “lupus hair” is the treatment for lupus itself. Once treatment for lupus begins, hair loss typically results in hair regrowth. However, if lesions develop on the scalp, hair loss can be permanent.
Lupus can cause chest pain for a number of reasons, such as coronary artery disease, myocarditis, and endocarditis, but one of the most common is pericarditis. Because lupus attacks many of the organs of the body, it also attacks the pericardium, which is the thin sac surrounding the heart.
Mild cases of pericarditis resolve on their own, but more severe cases cause the following symptoms:
- Stabbing chest pain directly behind or to the left of the breastbone
- Shortness of breath
- Low-grade fever
- A dry cough
- Lower extremity swelling
Treatment: Sometimes, pericarditis is one of the first indicators of lupus. Treatment of both pericarditis and lupus, in general, is imperative. Anti-inflammatory drugs will be prescribed in order to reduce the inflammation of the pericardium. In severe cases, corticosteroids may also be prescribed. In rare cases, surgery may be indicated.
The hallmark symptom of lupus is the butterfly-shaped rash on the nose that extends to the cheeks; it is also known as a malar rash. This rash occurs suddenly, as a result of exposure to sunlight, or prior to a flare-up. It affects 50 percent of people with lupus.
Lupus can also cause rashes and lesions on other areas of the body. Because people with lupus are often sensitive to the sun, these lesions can occur wherever there is sun exposure. Lupus may even cause hives, although this is rare. Some people may note discolorations of their fingers and toes.
Treatment: Treatment of lupus rashes typically involves treatment of lupus in general. This may involve anti-inflammatory medications, anti-malarial medications (which may help with joint and skin conditions), steroids, and immunosuppressive agents.
Another one of the first symptoms of lupus is a low-grade fever. This fever occurs for no apparent reason.
A fever that is associated with lupus hovers between 98.5 F (36.9 C) and 101 F (38.3 C). This fever may wax and wane, so many people do not think to see a physician. However, this fever may be an indication of inflammation or a flare-up.
Treatment: You can treat your fever with over-the-counter medications as discussed with your physician. Not every person with lupus experiences fevers; this may be because they are already prescribed large doses of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, and aspirin, which mask a fever. Contact your physician for higher than normal fevers, which can indicate an infection.