Healthy Living

The Link Between Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis

The Link Between Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Key Takeaways

  • Quite often, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are confused as they share most similar symptoms.
  • The most common symptoms that both these conditions share are joint pain and swelling.
  • Lupus is often misdiagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis.

What is common between lupus and rheumatoid arthritis?

Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are both autoimmune disorders. Autoimmune diseases occur when your immune system begins to produce antibodies against your healthy cells. These antibodies are termed as autoantibodies. Experts still have not found the exact cause for the production autoantibodies, but they surely know that there is a link to genetic factors since the disease tends to run in families.

Quite often, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are confused as they share most similar symptoms.

The most common symptoms that both these conditions share are joint pain and swelling. Both of these diseases are inflammatory conditions. That is why people suffering from these diseases wake up with painful joints. Both lupus and rheumatoid arthritis affect your energy levels, making you feel more tired and weak. Episodic fever is another common symptom that these two diseases share.

Is there a difference between the two diseases?

Yes, there are many differences between rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, and with these, you can easily tell them apart. Although both of these diseases tend to be much worse in the mornings, the joint pain and stiffness in rheumatoid arthritis gets better towards the evening as you work, but in lupus, the joint pain is constant throughout the day.

Another difference is that rheumatoid arthritis mostly affects the small joints of the hands producing deformities such as the swan neck deformity, whereas in lupus arthritis, such deformities do not occur.

Lupus arthritis not only affects the joints, but also affects several systems of our body including the heart, lungs, and skin. Lupus can also give rise to life-threatening complications if not managed properly, whereas in rheumatoid arthritis, no such fatal outcomes occur.

If there are so many differences between lupus arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, why are they frequently confused?

Since both these diseases show similar symptoms, lupus is often misdiagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis. However, with advanced rheumatoid arthritis, the doctors are able to confirm the diagnosis because with rheumatoid arthritis, there will be joint erosion and deformities, whereas such changes are not seen with lupus.

Making the right diagnosis

During the early stages, both rheumatoid and lupus arthritis are difficult to diagnose. Although joint pain is a common symptom of these diseases, it is not the only symptom of lupus. Lupus also produces a butterfly rash on the face, inflammation of the heart and lungs, and involves kidney functions as well.

Therefore, if the only symptoms you have are joint pain and stiffness, you may be having rheumatoid arthritis and not lupus arthritis.

Treatment for lupus arthritis

There is no cure for lupus; therefore, the disease is managed according to the symptoms. Most patients are prescribed analgesics and corticosteroids to control the inflammation and pain. Medications for skin rashes, kidney, heart, or lung problems are also prescribed along with some advice for lifestyle modifications.

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis

The pain in rheumatoid arthritis can also be managed with simple analgesics, but if they fail to work, sufferers are given cortisol injections to control the pain. Sometimes, patients will have to undergo a hip or knee replacement surgery later in life due to the joint deformities caused by rheumatoid arthritis.