Approximately 1.5 million people in the United States are living with lupus.
Lupus is a debilitating disease that occurs when a person's immune system attacks their own organs and tissues. This disease can thereby inflame multiple body systems, meaning the inflammation is felt all over the body, particularly the joints, skin, heart, lungs, brain, and even kidneys. Worse yet, the body's overall immune response is weakened, meaning a person with lupus is more susceptible to everyday infections.
What causes lupus?
Physicians are not sure what causes lupus. However, genetics, environment, and a patient's hormones are thought to be potential causes.
Why is lupus hard to diagnosis?
Lupus is often hard to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to those of other illnesses. Further, lupus can look different in various patients. For instance, most patients have a distinct facial rash, while other patients may not develop the rash at all.
How is lupus managed?
The disease is incurable, but it can be treated by a healthcare professional. Anti-inflammatory drugs, antimalarial drugs, healthy eating, and lifestyle changes can help improve symptoms of lupus. As with any condition, the sooner it is caught, the better the outcomes will be.
What are some can't-miss signs of lupus?
So, just what are some tell-tale signs of this immune disorder? The first place you can look is right on the surface of your skin...
11. Skin Rash
Where is the rash and what does it look like?
One common sign of lupus is a rash shaped like a butterfly stretched across the patient's nose and cheeks. It's also possible for purplish rashes to appear in other places, such as the arms or even legs.
Is the rash alone enough for a diagnosis?
While a significant percentage of people with lupus get this rash, not all will. That means that the rash alone is not enough to diagnose lupus. However, the rash along with several other lupus symptoms and the results of a blood test can often be enough to diagnose the condition.
How is this symptom managed?
- In many cases, prescription antimalarial drugs can be used to treat skin rashes associated with lupus. Best of all, these drugs can also be used to treat mouth sores, joint pain, and inflammation associated with lupus.
- Some patients have seen improvement in their skin rash by using topical creams. You can ask a doctor or pharmacist to recommend a skin ointment for lupus.
- Healthcare experts often recommend using sunscreen to protect skin from too much sun exposure. Doing so may help reduce your skin rash flare-ups. Ask a healthcare specialist for a sunblock recommendation.
It can be easy enough to spot this lupus sign. The next few symptoms, however, you need to actually feel...
10. Fatigue and Anemia
What is anemia?
Anemia is a common condition caused by an inadequate amount of circulating red blood cells. Now, anemia alone is not enough to diagnose a person with lupus. In fact, many health conditions list anemia as a symptom.
What about fatigue?
Once a person develops anemia, they often report fatigue. It's important to note that fatigue is not the same as simply being tired. Fatigue is intense exhaustion that even naps and long nights of sleep don't fix.
How are lupus-induced anemia and fatigue managed?
- Anemia itself can often be treated with proper diet and vitamin supplements. A physician will typically instruct you on which foods to eat and supplements to take if you're diagnosed with anemia. Unfortunately, some patients still experience lupus-related fatigue even after treating their anemia.
- Many physicians also suggest subtle lifestyle changes along with diet to help treat fatigue. For instance, you should get plenty of sleep and try to exercise several times per week. Walking, jogging, and swimming are good forms of exercise. It's important to remember that even modest amounts of exercise can help.
Fatigue and anemia alone are hard to trace back to lupus without a blood test, much like the following...
Fever is one symptom that typically appears during a lupus flare-up.
How does lupus cause fevers?
Lupus can cause fevers by triggering body inflammatory responses or even making someone more susceptible to infections.
How is a lupus-induced fever managed?
You can purchase nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs over the counter, such as naproxen and ibuprofen, to treat the fever you get during a lupus flare-up. Stronger drugs are available from a physician by prescription.
Keep the side effects in mind.
However, you should keep in mind that drug side effects do exist, even when for over-the-counter drugs. Such side effects may include:
- kidney problems
- stomach bleeding
- slightly increased risk of heart trouble
These side effects are more likely to appear in patients who take large dosages of the aforementioned drugs.
Fever is hard to point to any specific condition. The following condition, which may be caused by lupus, is more often attributed to more well-known diseases like arthritis...
8. Joint Pain
One of the early symptoms of lupus is joint pain.
Where is the pain located?
Lupus patients most often experience joint pain in their:
Less commonly, lupus may affect joints in the:
What does this symptom feel like?
Joint problems in lupus patients are usually not as damaging as arthritis; that doesn't mean they still cannot affect daily life, though. Often, the pain associated with lupus causes:
- a weak feeling in the joints
- difficulty bending the joints
- joint swelling and warmness
As a result, a person may struggle to perform everyday tasks, such as climbing stairs or buttoning a shirt.
Is it lupus or something else?
Joint pain is common in many physical illnesses, not just lupus. For instance, those who suffer from arthritis may experience pain in joints, too. There is an important distinction between lupus and arthritis-induced joint pain, though. For those with lupus, joint pain is most often temporary. By contrast, joint pain in arthritis sufferers tends to be chronic.
How is lupus-related joint pain managed?
Over-the-counter pain medications can reduce inflammation pain. Physicians will sometimes prescribe a corticosteroid, such as prednisone, to treat swelling.
Joint pain can keep someone from getting up and moving. The next symptom, however, can keep someone with lupus literally confined to the house during the day...
7. Sun Sensitivity (Photosensitivity)
Photosensitivity is the term used to describe increased sensitivity to UV light, and it can develop in those with lupus.
What are the complications of photosensitivity?
A lupus patient with photosensitivity may be more prone to developing rashes. Specifically, the common butterfly skin rash associated with lupus can be triggered by sun sensitivity. Some patients will also have disk-shaped patches of scaly skin due to sun exposure.
Just remember: Although rashes occur in more than half of lupus patients, not everyone with the condition will develop a rash.
How is this symptom managed?
You can take several measures to protect your skin from the sun.
- Foremost, try to avoid prolonged exposure. Ultraviolet light tends to be strongest at midday, so staying indoors during that time can help protect you from dangerous rays.
- On days when you will be exposed to more sunlight, you should coat yourself adequately with sunscreen. Ask a physician or pharmacist to recommend the best brand for your condition. SPF 30 or higher is usually the most effective sunscreen.
- In addition to wearing sunscreen, you should also cover yourself with clothing, especially on days when you'll be exposed to more sunlight. Wear a hat with a large brim and a long-sleeved shirt and pants.
- You should also avoid other light sources if you have lupus. For instance, tanning beds also emit ultraviolet light, so you should avoid them at all costs.
- You may also be exposed to ultraviolet fluorescent lights while indoors. You can use shades and filters to protect against UV light from indoor sources. Ask your physician for recommendations.
The next symptom of lupus can be quite hairy—literally...
6. Hair Loss
Some lupus patients experience hair loss or hair thinning.
How does lupus cause hair loss?
This hair loss is due to inflammation around the hair follicles and the scalp.
What is this symptom like?
Thinning hair and breakage around the hairline commonly occurs. However, hair loss is not usually limited to hair on the head. In fact, it's entirely possible to lose eyelashes and eyebrows, too. Patients with beards may notice thinning facial hair or bald patches.
Can the hair go back?
Sometimes. Hair loss often stops when lupus goes into remission, meaning some patients can regrow their lost hair.
However, lupus can cause discoid lesions or sores, which can form anywhere on the body. When these lesions form on the scalp, they can cause permanent hair loss.
How is this condition managed?
There are several steps to take in order to reduce hair loss.
- For instance, avoiding sunlight helps lower the risk of flare-ups and skin lesions that lead to hair loss.
- You could also eat a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables. The nutrients in these foods help strengthen your hair.
- Limiting stress and getting approximately eight hours of sleep each night can help reduce flare-ups, too.
Hair loss can have devastating effects on a person's self-confidence levels. The next symptoms can have devastating effects on a pesron's cardiovascular system...
5. Raynaud's Disease/Syndrome/Phemonenon
Raynaud's disease is a condition in the cardiovascular system that causes blood vessels to contract. This contraction naturally restricts blood flow, typically in a person's hands or feet.
How common is this symptom?
Raynaud's disease is seen in approximately one-third of patients who have lupus.
What causes Raynaud's syndrome?
Raynaud's in patients with lupus is most often caused by inflammation of blood vessels or nerves due to cold temperatures or stress.
What does this condition look and feel like?
The patient's toes and fingers can become numb and turn white, red, blue, or even purple. Some patients report tingling or pain rather than numbness in the fingers and toes. Some patients report numb, tingling or pain in their noses, chins, or lips as well.
How is this syndrome managed?
There are several ways to avoid Raynaud's or to lessen its symptoms.
- Wearing mittens, extra socks and an extra layer of clothing when in colder temperatures may help.
- Those who feel an attack of Raynaud's coming on may soak the feet and hands in warm water. Those choosing this method should be cautious not to dip their limbs into too hot of water, which can be easy to do since if the hands and feet are numbed.
- Patients might use mittens or oven mitts when removing items from a freezer or cooler.
- Some decongestant medications can trigger Raynaud's symptoms. That is why patients should always consult a physician before taking any decongestants.
- It is important to not smoke and avoid areas where others smoke.
- Items such as power tools or even electric hand mixers can create vibrating motions that cause Raynaud's symptoms.
- In patients with severe symptoms of Raynaud's, a physician will often prescribe drugs to treat the inflamed blood vessels. Patients should also consult a physician if their symptoms worsen or if they develop lesions or sores.
Raynaud's isn't a common symptom of many diseases, unlike the following...
4. Weight Loss or Weight Gain
People with lupus may experience changes in their weight.
How does lupus cause weight changes?
Lupus may cause weight loss by affecting appetite.
Additionally, it may cause weight gain by limiting activity and mobility via joint pain, photosensitivity, or even decreased energy levels. Lupus may also cause some people to eat unhealthy diets, which may lead to weight gain.
How is this symptom managed?
People with lupus should eat a well-balanced diet. Adequate amounts of veggies, fruits, and whole grains are important. Why? Because these foods help reduce swelling and other symptoms related to inflammation. Lupus patients can have poultry, oily fish, and meat in moderation.
Be aware of bone health, too.
Eating a healthy diet will also help the development and maintenance of stronger muscles and bones. This fact is important because those with lupus should be particularly careful about their bone health. After all, some drugs used to treat this condition may put patients at an increased risk for developing osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a bone condition that causes bones to lose density and therefore become more susceptible to breaking.
Don't forget about heart health, either.
A low-fat, heart-healthy diet is often recommended for lupus patients. This is because lupus can put a person at an increased risk for heart disease. Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising several times each week, and eating healthy can help lower risk of heart problems.
Is weight change enough to diagnose lupus?
Weight changes alone are not enough to warrant a lupus diagnosis. After all, weight change is attributable to many conditions. The following lupus symptom is also common in many other illnesses...
3. Enlarged Lymph Nodes
The lymphatic system is a network of vessels, organs, and lymph nodes located throughout the body. The head and neck region as well as the groin and armpits, for example, have many lymph nodes. When lymph nodes swell, they are commonly in these areas.
What do swollen lymph nodes look and feel like?
Swollen lymph nodes are often a sign that something. So, how can someone spot this sign? Well, the swelling tends to be about the size of a pea or a bean. When swelling occurs, it is common to have pain or tenderness in the area, too.
Hows does lupus cause swollen lymph nodes?
Lupus is a disease that impacts the immune system. In other words, lupus increases a patient's risk of infection. A common symptom of many, many infections? Swollen lymph nodes.
How are swollen lymph nodes managed?
In patients with lupus, physicians tend to treat the underlying cause of the swollen lymph nodes. Therefore, if a patient has developed an infection that caused the lymph nodes to swell, the patient's infection should be treated.
Lymph nodes may be easy enough to spot when large. However, this next condition should be easy enough to spot even when relatively small...
2. Sores in the Mouth and Nose
Approximately half of all lupus patients experience mouth sores at some point or another. In fact, mouth sores are one of the most common features seen in lupus patients.
Where do the sores occur?
Lupus-related mouth sores may appear on the roof of the mouth, the gums, cheeks, or lips.
What do the sores feel like?
The sores are not typically life-threatening. In most cases, the sores are painless, though a small percentage of patients report pain. Some patients may experience soreness or a burning sensation in the mouth.
What about discoid lupus lesions?
Lupus-related mouth sores are sometimes referred to as ulcers, or discoid lupus lesions. The sores are red in appearance and have a white ring or halo around them.
How are these sores managed?
- Many patients have successfully treated discoid lupus lesions with topical creams, either purchased over-the-counter or prescribed by a physician.
- Steroids are also sometimes used to treat the sores. These steroids may be taken by injection or taken topically.
- Antimalarial drugs are also used to treat skin lesions.
- To combat mouth sores or help alleviate them, stress management may help. That can mean not taking on more work than someone can comfortably complete.
- It's also important to visit the dentist regularly and practice good oral hygiene (like brushing twice daily and flossing daily).
The most alarming lupus symptom of all?
While sores can be unsightly, they typically aren't as alarming as the following symptom...
1. Chest Pain
Lupus patients should visit their doctor regularly and beware of heart trouble. After all, lupus raises a patient's risk of developing heart disease or a stroke.
How does lupus raise the risk of heart problems?
Some physicians think this increased risk is due to inflammation, particularly in the heart or the sac surrounding it. The side effects of certain drugs used to treat lupus could also raise the risk of heart problems.
What does the pain feel like?
Swelling can cause a sharp pain in the patient's chest or heart. This pain can increase when the patient takes a sharp or deep breath.
How is chest pain related to lupus managed?
There are several ways to help reduce risk of chest pain associated with lupus.
- For starters, smokers should quit smoking, as it increases the risk of heart disease and raises blood pressure.
- Regular exercise is also crucial. Cardio exercise generally improves heart health.
Take chest pain seriously.
In most cases, the chest pain associated with lupus is not life-threatening. However, those who experience severe pain or chest pain that occurs more frequently than usual should consult a physician.
If chest pain comes with other symptoms, such as shortness of breath or clamminess, someone should seek immediate medical help.
What should people who think they have lupus know?...
Managing Lupus is Possible
How is lupus diagnosed?
Lupus is most often diagnosed by blood work and other clinical tests.
Talking with the doctor is important.
Those diagnosed with lupus should follow their physician's instructions. Additionally, patients should report any flare-ups or changes in symptoms to their doctor.
Those who experience extreme symptoms, have difficulty breathing, or an ongoing fever should seek immediate medical attention. Seizures, confusion, and extreme pains in the stomach are also symptoms where calling for an ambulance is necessary.
How are flare-ups managed?
Lupus is a disease that has periods of flare-ups followed by remissions. During a flare-up, symptoms will range from mild to severe. Most lupus patients will notice a rash and arthritis symptoms during this time. Additionally, about half of all lupus patients will have kidney trouble. Furthermore, because lupus damages the patient's immune system, they are more susceptible to infections than others.
How long do flare-ups last?
One characteristic of lupus is that it can flare up unexpectedly. Flare-ups typically last several days, but some patients report that their flare-ups last for two weeks or more.
What's most important to remember?
It's important to remember, though, that symptoms will subside eventually. With drug treatments, patients can learn to manage flare-ups better. With other lifestyle changes, it's also possible to reduce the impact of other lupus symptoms, too.