What is Lupus?
Before we talk about the signs and symptoms of lupus, let’s define it. Lupus is a widespread and chronic (lifelong) autoimmune disease that, for unknown reasons, causes the immune system to attack the body’s own tissue and organs, including the joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, brain, blood, or skin. Lupus can cause a wide variety of devastating symptoms. It can affect nearly every organ in the body with no predictability, causing widespread infections and inflammation. Back to top
What are the four types of lupus?
- Cutaneous lupus erythematosus (also known as chronic cutaneous lupus): Cutaneous lupus was the first type of lupus to be diagnosed. This type affects the skin and can cause thick, red, scaly rashes on the face, neck, and scalp that can lead to scarring. There are three types of cutaneous lupus rashes (discoid being one of them) that we will discuss in detail below.
- Drug-induced lupus erythematosus: Drug-induced lupus is a rare, almost always temporary form of lupus that can occur as a side effect of certain medications, including several drugs commonly used to treat heart disease and hypertension. Unusual when compared to statistics for other forms of lupus, men are more likely to develop drug-induced lupus than women. Drug induced lupus only occurs after long-term (months to years) daily use of a medication, and once the medication is stopped, symptoms of drug-induced lupus typically disappear completely within six months. Drug induced lupus does not lead to systemic lupus.
- Neonatal lupus erythematosus: This is a rare form of lupus in newborn babies whose mothers have lupus that can cause problems at birth or in rare cases, a serious heart defect. This occurs when a mother with certain kinds of lupus [antibodies] transfers them to her child at the time of birth. The mother may have the antibodies but not have lupus herself. In fact, less than 50% of mothers of babies with neonatal lupus actually have lupus.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE: Systemic lupus causes inflammation in multiple organs and body systems. SLE is a widespread and chronic autoimmune disease that, for unknown reasons, causes the immune system to attack the body’s own tissue and organs, including the joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, brain, blood, or skin. 90% of those affected with lupus are women between the ages of 15 and 45, and of those, two-thirds are people of color.
Lupus Signs & Symptoms
Lupus is a very difficult disease to diagnose. Because lupus rarely presents itself the same way in any two people, it is very challenging for those in the medical profession to understand, diagnose and properly treat. It often takes a very long time for a diagnosis, which can be extremely frustrating for both the patient and the physician alike. Lupus symptoms may have a sudden onset or progress slowly; they could be temporary or permanent, making it all the more confusing and concerning. There are, however certain signs and symptoms that may begin you asking the question, “Could I have lupus?”
Lupus can and often affects many different systems in the body, and therefore, if you do have lupus, the symptoms and signs that you may experience will depend heavily on which part of the body is being affected by the disease.
Some Common Lupus Symptoms:
- Brain and Nervous System: Persistent and unusual headaches, memory loss, or confusion, sometimes called a ‘brain fog’.
- Lungs: Lupus can damage the lungs through pleurisy and pneumonitis (inflammation), or pulmonary emboli, resulting in shortness of breath and pain in the chest from deep breathing.
- Renal System: About half of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) patients will develop some form of kidney inflammation, called lupus nephritis. This inflammation can lead to kidney failure, but like most lupus symptoms the effect on the kidneys is quite variable and hard to predict. Increased protein (showing as blood) in the urine, swelling of the feet and legs, and high blood pressure can be indicators that the kidneys may be affected.
- Eyes: Lupus can damage nerves and blood vessels in the eye, leading to dry or puffy eyes (this is also a common symptom in Sjogren’s syndrome), and increasing sensitivity to light.
- Mouth: Sores inside the mouth are a common symptom of lupus.
- Skin: Lupus may cause skin rashes, and is known for its distinctive “butterfly” rash on the face usually over the cheeks and bridge of the nose. These rashes can be exacerbated by sun exposure (photo-sensitivity). You may also experience hives or sores which would also worsen with sun exposure. Sudden and unexplained hair loss could also signify lupus.
- Fingers, Toes, Tip of the Nose: If your fingers turn white or blue with exposure to cold or during stressful situations, it can be caused by a constricting of the small blood vessels in those areas. This is called Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition closely associated with lupus.
- Stomach & Digestion: Lupus can cause or exacerbate ulcerative colitis, pancreatitis, and liver conditions, resulting in nausea, vomiting, recurring and persistent abdominal pain, bladder infections, and blood in urine.
- Legs, Joints, and Feet: Persistent joint pain and swelling is a common lupus symptom, this a common symptom in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA is a common overlap disease with lupus. Legs and feet may also swell.
- Fatigue and unexplained fevers
Check out this link, for a great, short, informational video featuring the Chairman of Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, Dr. Bob Lahita. This video provides clear and concise information that will help to give an understanding of what could be some symptoms of lupus.He also gives some fantastic advice by recommending that the patient write down all symptoms being experienced before heading in to a doctor for diagnosis.
If you develop an unexplained rash, are having ongoing fever along with persistent aching or fatigue, write these, and any other accompanying symptoms, down and seek a medical professional like a rheumatologist. Please see the related links below. Back to top
Some Super Resources
- Would you like to know more about lupus? Please visit the What is Lupus? page on our website or read our What is Lupus? blog.
- Do you think you may have lupus? Click on this link for some more great information on Lupus Symptoms.
- Molly’s Fund Fighting Lupus has a great referral network that we working on making even more robust. Please find it here: Referral Network
Fortunately because of the hard work we are doing here at Molly’s Fund Fighting Lupus, along with the efforts of other lupus organizations and research institutes such as the Alliance for Lupus Research, awareness is being brought to this debilitating disease. We are making strides in the understanding of lupus, which is leading to quicker diagnosis, the development of better treatments and medications, and ultimately getting steps closer to our goal of a cure. Back to top
You can help us spread the word! To learn more, stay up to date, and be a part of our online community, sign up for our newsletter, find us on Twitter, follow us on Pinterest, like us on Facebook, join us on Google+ and let’s keep this conversation going. Find the links to other relevant blogs below and please leave your comments as well, we want to hear from you!
*All images unless otherwise noted are property of and were created by Molly’s Fund Fighting Lupus. To use one of these images, please contact us at [email protected] for written permission; image credit and link-back must be given to Molly’s Fund Fighting Lupus.
**All resources provided by Molly’s Fund are for informational purposes only and should be used as a guide or for supplemental information, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. The personal views do not necessarily encompass the views of the organization, but the information has been vetted as a relevant resource. We encourage you to be your strongest advocate and always contact your medical provider with any specific questions or concerns.