Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects 1.5 million Americans. It causes swelling and inflammation throughout the body, and can lead to a wide variety of symptoms. These symptoms vary from person to person, ranging from mild to severe, and they usually occur in cycles of flare-ups and remissions. This can make diagnosing lupus difficult, especially since the symptoms of lupus can change over time and overlap with those of many other disorders.
However, early treatment of lupus may help keep symptoms under control. Being able to distinguish lupus symptoms from other kinds of disorders early on may help you with your treatment.
When someone has lupus, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy organs and tissues. The inflammation caused by lupus can affect multiple different body systems, which can lead to a wide variety of signs and symptoms that may come and go.
Hair loss is often the first sign of lupus for many patients, as it is the result of inflammation of the skin and scalp. As a result of lupus treatment, many patients will experience renewed hair growth. However, if you develop lesions on your scalp, there is a risk of your hair loss becoming permanent.
Ninety percent of people with lupus will experience general fatigue at some point during the course of their disease. While some patients find that napping during the day helps, you will want to speak with your doctor if you’re living with debilitating fatigue.
An early symptom of lupus includes a low-grade fever without cause. These fevers are usually intermittent, with temperature hovering between 98.5˚F (36.9˚C) and 101˚F (38.3˚C). Because a low-grade fever could be a symptom of inflammation, infection, or imminent flare-up, you should see a doctor if you are experiencing them recurrently.
About half of all lupus patients experience a characteristic rash called the malar or “butterfly rash. This rash is so-named because it spans the width of the face and covers both the cheeks and the bridge of the nose. This rash will be red, elevated, oftentimes scaly, and can appear either after exposure to the sun or spontaneously. In addition to its placement, a malar rash can be distinguished from other rashes because it spares the nasal folds, which are the spaces just under each side of your nose.
Inflammation of the lungs, diaphragm, and pulmonary blood vessels can be another possible symptom of lupus. A patient will experience these symptoms as chest pain upon inhalation, though over time they can shrink one’s lung size and cause both ongoing chest pain and shortness of breath.
Nephritis, or inflammation of the kidneys, is another early sign of lupus. This inflammation can make it harder for the kidneys to filter toxins and wastes from the blood. Since early symptoms of nephritis can go unnoticed, monitoring of kidney function is recommended after a lupus diagnosis. If left untreated, lupus nephritis can lead to end-stage renal disease (ESRD).
The inflammation associated with lupus can also affect the joints, causing intermittent pain, stiffness, and visible swelling, particularly in the morning. While mild at first, this pain can gradually become more intense over time.
Some patients, though not all, may experience occasional heartburn, acid reflux, or other gastrointestinal problems as a result of the inflammation of the digestive tract.
For people with lupus, it’s not uncommon to develop autoimmune thyroid disease. A healthy thyroid is responsible for helping control your body’s metabolism. However, a poorly functioning thyroid can affect vital organs like your brain, heart, kidneys, and liver, and can also result in weight gain or weight loss, as well as dry skin and hair and moodiness.
Some patients living with lupus will also develop something called Sjogren’s disease, which is another autoimmune disorder. Sjogren’s causes the glands responsible for tears and saliva to malfunction, resulting in both dry mouth and eyes. In some cases, women with lupus and Sjogren’s may also experience dryness of the vagina and skin.
Diagnosing lupus can sometimes prove difficult because so many of the symptoms of the condition overlap with many other disorders, and because symptoms can vary so much from person to person.
There is no one singular test to diagnose lupus. Instead, your doctor will likely use a combination of blood tests, urine tests, and a physical exam.
Treatment for lupus will vary from person to person, as it depends on your specific signs and symptoms. Together with your healthcare provider, you can develop a specific treatment plan that may consist of medications and lifestyle modifications.
The medications used to most commonly treat lupus include:
Simple measures to ensure that you are taking care of yourself and your body can help prevent lupus flares and, should they occur, better cope with the signs and symptoms you experience.
Lupus causes swelling and inflammation throughout the body, which makes for the varied list and range of symptoms. However, it’s important to remember that not all patients will experience every symptom, and also that symptoms can disappear or come and go over time. If you feel you are experiencing some of the signs and symptoms of lupus, talk to your healthcare provider today.