The Common Symptoms That Might Be Lupus
Tune into any rerun of the show House and you’ll likely watch Hugh Laurie’s character diagnose a patient with lupus. Since the major problem in every episode is almost always something else, you may wonder why Dr. House continued to go back to that diagnosis. But as it turns out, lupus has a long list of varying symptoms — which can make it a bit tricky to pinpoint. Think you have this autoimmune disease?
Here are some of the common symptoms that may show you have lupus. (The symptom on page 11 is truly terrifying.)
The National Resource Center On Lupus tells us that part of what makes this disorder so hard to diagnose is that many of its symptoms are found in other disorders. However, one symptom that is a bit more unique to lupus is butterfly-shaped rashes that break out on the face. This red rash typically spreads across the cheeks and the nose. Smaller rashes can also break out on the face and neck area.
Next: A very common symptom that can be an early indicator …
While chronic tiredness can be a symptom of many ailments, it is one of the most common signs of lupus. To make matters worse, other health problems can add to the fatigue. “Fatigue with lupus is sometimes caused by an underlying medical problem, such as anemia, fibromyalgia, depression, or a kidney or thyroid problem,” Meenakshi Jolly, MD, MS, tells WebMD. “And in some cases, it can be a side effect of medication.”
Next: You’ll think twice the next time you have this symptom …
You may think a getting a headache is no big deal. But lupus affects your central nervous system and can cause debilitating migraines. In fact, individuals with lupus “may be twice as likely to experience migraine-like lupus headaches” the National Resource Center on Lupus tells us. “If you are experiencing headaches that are not improved by an over-the-counter headache medication, be sure to tell your doctor.”
Next: The headaches may be made worse by this ailment …
If you live somewhere with a particularly cold climate, you’ve probably heard of Raynaud’s disease, which causes limbs and fingers to be extra sensitive to low temperatures and stress. However, Raynaud’s can also develop in patients with lupus, because of how the disease attacks blood vessels. According to Mayo Clinic, people with this condition may also experience a color change in their fingers and toes when their limbs get too cold, as well as a prickly or throbbing feeling.
Next: Speaking of uncomfortable feelings …
Painful or swollen joints
Healthline tells us that joint pain and joints that become swollen are some of the earliest signs that you may have lupus. “It may be mild at first and gradually become more obvious,” they say. “If over-the-counter pain medications don’t help, see your doctor. There may be better treatment options. But your doctor must determine if your joint problems are caused by lupus or another condition, such as arthritis.”
Next: This common symptom can be worse than you think …
We aren’t talking about the spiking fever you get when you have the flu. People with lupus can get low-grade fevers on and off, for no identifiable reason. “A low-grade fever could be a symptom of inflammation, infection, or imminent flare-up,” Healthline explains. “If you have recurrent, low-grade fevers, make an appointment to see your doctor.”
Next: More trouble with your blood …
While symptoms can greatly vary from person to person, about half of the people with active lupus may also experience anemia. This can be caused by a number of things, including low hemoglobin and low red blood cell count. Think you may have anemia? It isn’t too hard to tell. “Fatigue, a very common lupus symptom, is generally the first and most common symptom of anemia,” Michael Rosove, MD, tells the National Resource Center on Lupus.
Next: And more trouble still …
As if sensitivity to cold wasn’t bad enough, lupus may also cause your limbs to feel hot and swell. Lupus can target the kidneys and make them swell, making it difficult for the body to eliminate waste from your bloodstream or fluids from the rest of the body. This, in turn, can cause swelling in various parts of the body like the ankles. According to Healthline, kidney inflammation typically occurs within five years of the start of lupus.
Next: Swelling doesn’t stop at your ankles …
As we previously mentioned, lupus damages your nerves and blood vessels. One branch of medicine that can become heavily impacted by that is ophthalmology — aka your eyes. In this case, the skin around your eyes, or even your eyes themselves, may be affected.”Lupus can damage nerves and blood vessels in the eye, leading to dry or puffy eyes, and increased sensitivity to light,” Kaleidoscope Fighting Lupus explains.
Next: On that note …
“Photosensitivity or abnormal light sensitivity is very complex and is a major symptom of lupus,” the National Resource Center on Lupus explains. Additionally, exposure to the sun can make other lupus symptoms like skin rashes and lesions even more pronounced. “In addition to worsening of skin lupus lesions, many patients also experience more generalized skin or systemic reactions to light that are not their typical skin lupus,” they say.
Next: A truly terrifying stat …
According to The Johns Hopkins Lupus Center, 50% of people with lupus will experience trouble with their lungs. One such condition, called pleurisy, is so painful that it may hurt you to even breathe. “Since inflammation of the pleura puts pressure on the lungs, people with pleuritis often experience pain when taking deep breaths,” the website says. Sneezing, coughing, and laughing may also cause pain.
Next: Another scary side effect …
Abnormal blood clotting
“Blood clots are seen with increased frequency in lupus,” Cleveland Clinic explains. This occurs because a lupus patient’s body begins producing an abnormal protein in the blood. Said protein, in turn, makes the blood clot more readily. “Clots often occur in the legs (a vein clot, called deep venous thrombosis), lungs (a lung clot, called pulmonary embolus), or brain (stroke).”
Next: An odd symptom that isn’t as painful as you may think …
Mouth or nose ulcers
Mouth and nasal sores are actually one of the symptoms that doctors look to the most when diagnosing lupus, Health.com says. But these aren’t the painful sores you may be thinking of. Dr. Gary Gilkeson tells the website that these ulcers “usually comes pain-free.” And “rather than developing on the sides of the mouth or gums, these sores typically reside on the roof of the mouth.”
Next: You probably didn’t know this was a lupus symptom …
“Hair loss is the result of inflammation of the skin and scalp,” Healthline says. But hair doesn’t just fall out — its texture can change as well. “Lupus can cause hair to feel brittle, break easily, and look a bit ragged, earning it the name ‘lupus hair.'” But thankfully, that hair won’t be lost forever. According to the website, treatment can cause hair to grow back as long as the scalp doesn’t have lesions.
Next: Speaking of treatment …
How you can get help
Unfortunately, there is no cure for lupus. But as WebMD points out, people with the disease are living longer because of advanced knowledge of treating the symptoms. Anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids can help with some of the more uncomfortable symptoms. Additionally, lifestyle changes have been shown to help. Healthy habits such as eating well, getting enough sleep, and having regular checkups with your doctor can all go far to help keep lupus under control.
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