It is very hard to diagnose lupus. Since two individuals can have different signs of lupus, doctors have a hard time diagnosing it and treating it effectively. To diagnose lupus, it can take a long time, which can be distracting to both the doctor and the affected person. The symptoms of lupus can appear randomly or develop gradually. The symptoms can also be short or long-term, which causes more concern. Other lupus symptoms may make you question if you have the disease.
Since lupus mostly affects various body systems, the signs and symptoms will greatly depend on the body part that has been affected by the condition.
Every lupus patient experiences unique symptoms that can either be severe or mild and may appear or disappear over time. The leading lupus symptoms include extreme fatigue, mysterious fevers, and joints that are swollen or painful. A reddish skin rash, known as the malar rash, may occur on the cheeks and nose. One may also experience rashes on the shoulders, hands, ears, face, chest, upper arms, and other body parts that can be exposed to the sun. The reason is that majority of lupus patients are sunlight sensitive.
What is lupus?
Lupus is known as a chronic autoimmune medical condition that tends to damage any part of the body such as the skin, joints, or organs. The type of lupus we are talking about is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The condition lasts for a longer duration from several weeks to many years. When something goes wrong in the immune system, it can lead to lupus. The immune system helps ward off viruses, bacteria, or fungus from the body. Moreover, the moment it is impaired, it tends to pave the way for different types of infection. A healthy immune system produces proteins known as antibodies. These antibodies help protect the body from foreign invaders.
Lupus is not a contagious disease, it doesn’t even spread through sexual contact. Hence, there is no way one can catch lupus from others. It is also not related to cancer as lupus is an autoimmune disease. It is not malignant like cancer. Lupus symptoms can range from mild to moderate. However, in some cases, it can lead to life-threatening conditions. For this reason, it needs medical supervision for treatment. Under good medical guidance, one can get treated for lupus and lead a better life. It is said that lupus mostly strikes women who are in the childbearing age. However, men and children are not spared from this medical condition, especially those in the age bracket of 15-44 years old. They are also at a higher risk of developing some form of lupus.
Lupus makes it difficult for the immune system to differentiate between antigens and healthy cells. The condition causes the immune system to let the antibodies attack the healthy cells, which result in swelling, tissue damage, and pain. As mentioned earlier, any part of the body could be affected by this medical condition. There are around five million people around the globe who suffer from some form of lupus and 90 percent of which are women.
It is said that lupus develops due to environmental or genetic factors. Environmental factors would include smoking, exposure to sunlight, constant stress, certain antibiotics, and infections. There is still no cure for lupus. However, medications can control its symptoms if taken on a regular basis.
Causes of lupus
It is not yet clearly identified as to what exactly causes lupus. However, studies indicate that the development of lupus is a response to a variety of internal and external factors, which include genetics, hormones, and environmental factors.
There is no specific gene or group of genes known to be the cause of lupus. The prevalence of lupus is known to be in some families that share the same genes. However, people with no family history of lupus can also develop the condition. Certain ethnicities such as African, Native American, Asian, or Hispanic are known to be at a greater risk of developing lupus.
Hormones are chemical substances produced by the body. These hormones are known to regulate or control the activity of specific cells or organs. Lupus is mostly seen as a common occurrence in females than men. Studies say that women develop lupus symptoms just before their menstrual periods or during pregnancy when the production of estrogen levels are high.
Studies indicate that there are certain environmental agents such as viruses or chemicals that would trigger the occurrence of lupus in an individual. Some of those triggers would be in the form of infections, colds, ultraviolet rays, exposure to silica, stress, exhaustion, injury, or smoking.
The leading symptoms
According to research, approximately 90 percent of lupus patients have some degree of fatigue. Although too much daytime sleeping can result in insomnia during the night, a nap in the afternoon solves this problem for the majority of lupus patients. If it is possible for you to stay active and have an everyday routine, your energy levels could remain high. Consult with your doctor if your fatigue is unbearable. Certain sources of tiredness can be cured.
2) Unexplained fever
An unexplained fever is one of the earliest signs of lupus. A fever would range from 98.5 to 101 degrees Fahrenheit. This kind of fever may come and go in lupus patients. A low-grade fever could be a sign of infection, inflammation, or a looming flare-up. Visit your doctor if you experience frequent fevers.
3) Loss of hair
One of the initial signs of lupus is hair loss. Loss of hair is caused by scalp and skin inflammation. Most of the time, hair loss is gradual. However, certain lupus patients lose their hair in clusters. Certain individuals also experience thinning of their eyelashes, beard, eyebrows, or other hair in the body. As a result of lupus, hair is easily breakable, brittle, and have a ragged appearance, which explains the term "lupus hair". However, you can grow new hair once you undergo treatment for lupus.
4) Skin lesions or rashes
A rash that looks like a butterfly and spreads on the cheeks and nose is one of the most noticeable signs of lupus. According to research, approximately 50 percent of lupus patients develop this rash. You can have this rash after sun exposure. However, it can also randomly appear. This rash can also appear because of a lupus flare-up.
Lesions that do not itch can also appear on other body parts as a result of lupus. Lupus can also lead to hives, although uncommon. The majority of individuals with lupus are sensitive to sunlight or artificial lighting. Other people may experience discoloration of the toes and fingers.
5) Pulmonary problems
Another potential sign of lupus is pulmonary system inflammation. Apart from inflammation of the lungs, the blood vessels in the lungs can also become swollen. The diaphragm can also be affected, which can result in chest pain when inhaling. This condition is known as "pleuritic chest pain".
Such breathing problems can result to lung shrinkage over time, which is also known as the "shrinking lung syndrome". The symptoms of this condition are breathlessness and chest pain.
6) Nephritis (inflammation of the kidney)
Lupus patients can also develop nephritis, which is the inflammation of the kidneys. Because of inflammation, kidneys cannot effectively filter the waste and toxins from the blood. According to research, you will normally develop nephritis within five years after being diagnosed with lupus.
High blood pressure and swelling of the lower legs are two of the symptoms of this condition. You will have frequent urination during the night or the urine could contain blood. Your urine may appear darker than normal and your side could be painful. However, you may not notice the early signs. After diagnosis, the doctor will observe your kidney function. End-stage renal disease (ESRD) can result from untreated lupus.
7) Swollen and painful joints
As a result of inflammation, your joints will become rigid, painful, and swollen, especially in the morning. However, pain can be gradual. Just like other lupus symptoms, joint problems may come and go.
Consult with your doctor if over-the-counter drugs do not prove to be effective. There could be other alternatives for treatment, but your physician must decide whether lupus is the source of your joint issues or other ailments such as arthritis.
8) Gastrointestinal issues
There will be instances when lupus patients have acid reflux, heartburn, and other gastrointestinal problems. Over-the-counter antacids can treat mild symptoms. You can minimize the amount of food you eat if you experience recurring heartburn or acid reflux. Moreover, avoid sleeping immediately after eating. Consult your doctor if symptoms still persist.
9) Thyroid complications
Lupus patients can develop an autoimmune thyroid condition. Your body’s metabolism is regulated by the thyroid. Important organs like the kidneys, brain, liver, and heart may be affected when the thyroid does not function effectively. It can lead to weight loss or weight gain. Moodiness, dry hair, and skin are other symptoms that lupus patients may experience.
Hyperthyroidism is characterized by an overactive thyroid gland while hypothyroidism is a condition with an underactive thyroid. Consult your doctor to know the different treatments to correct your metabolism.
10) Dry eyes or dry mouth
You will probably have a dry mouth if you suffer from lupus. Your eyes may also be dry and gritty. The reason for this is that certain individuals with lupus develop Sjogren’s syndrome. It is another autoimmune condition, which leads to the breakdown of glands responsible for the production of saliva and tears.
Doctors can recommend drugs that can aid in the production of saliva and tears.
11) Nervous system problems
In some individuals, lupus tends to have an impact on the brain and the central nervous system. They may experience symptoms such as headaches, memory disturbance, vision problems, depression, dizziness, stroke, seizures, or sudden changes in mood or behavior.
12) Vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessel)
Due to lupus, the blood vessels may start to become inflamed, which in turn, starts affecting the blood circulation throughout the body giving rise to other medical conditions.
13) Heart-related problems
For some people with lupus, there are chances of inflammation occurring in the heart itself, which can give way for myocarditis and endocarditis. At times, it can also affect the membrane that surrounds it, which is called as pericarditis. Such heart conditions would lead to symptoms such chest pain or chest inflammation. Endocarditis is known to cause damage to the heart valves. It would then lead to thickening of the valve and develop growths, which would lead to heart murmurs.
14) Blood-related conditions
Individuals who have lupus have the possibility of developing anemia (low RBC count), leukopenia (low WBC count), or thrombocytopenia (low platelet count).
Other lupus symptoms
There are a variety of lupus symptoms. However, you will not probably experience all of its symptoms. Most individuals only have the leading symptoms. Other lupus symptoms include:
- High fever
- Swollen lymph glands
- Frequent mouth ulcers
- Abdominal pain
- Memory loss
- Migraines and headaches
- Feelings of confusion
- Edema or swelling in the leg or around the eyes
- Raynaud's phenomenon
When to visit a doctor
If your symptoms are frequent or bothering you, and you suspect that lupus is the cause, consult a doctor immediately. It is better to seek medical help to have an accurate diagnosis and treatment. Your symptoms might have a different underlying cause than lupus.