Lupus is a mysterious disease that is little understood by the public and has perplexed the medical community for more than a century. We are unclear exactly what causes Lupus, as its symptoms vary from case to case, and also seem to come and go without reason.
As difficult as it may be to diagnose, there are certain signs to look out for if you think you may have lupus. The more you know about what lupus is, how it works, and what symptoms indicate its presence, the better you’ll be able to tell if you have it.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease. That means that instead of just attacking foreign invaders into the body, the immune system turns on the person’s own body, attacking and destroying healthy tissue.
Not Like HIV
Lupus is quite a bit different from the well known autoimmune disease human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Unlike HIV, lupus isn’t contagious at all and can’t be passed from one person to another, even through sexual contact. Further, where HIV makes the immune system less active, lupus has the opposite effect, making the immune system overactive.
While some cases of lupus can be life-threatening, others can be mild. Regardless of the severity, it should always be treated by a doctor. With proper medical care, most people with lupus can lead a long, fulfilling life.
In the United States, more than 16,000 new cases of lupus are reported each year. Most estimates calculate that there are at least 1.5 million Americans affected by the disease, though the actual numbers may be higher.
Different Risk Levels
While anyone can have lupus, people in certain demographics are an a greater risk of developing the disease. Women are far more likely to develop lupus than men, women of color develop it at two to three times the rate of Caucasians, and most people develop the disease between the ages of 15 and 44.
Hard to Spot
For those that do have lupus, the symptoms can be difficult to recognize. For one thing, the symptoms tend to flare up at times followed by periods of remission, which can make them easier to dismiss.
The Major Signs
The early symptoms of the disease are also similar to those of other conditions, meaning that if you experience one or more of them, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have lupus. That said, there are 10 symptoms you should be on the look out for that may mean you have it.
The first and most common symptom of lupus is fatigue. About 90 percent of people with lupus experience some level of fatigue. While it can be debilitating for some, others can make it through the day just fine with the help of an afternoon nap.
People with lupus may experience fever but it can be different from what you would typically experience from a viral or bacterial infection. Rather than the intense fever that may can be caused by something like the flu, a fever caused by lupus tends to be low-grade.
This means that a person’s body temperature will usually be just above normal — between 98.5˚F (36.9˚C) and 101˚F (38.3˚C) — if it’s caused by lupus. Because it may not be much warmer than the person’s normal body temperature, they might not think they need to see a doctor, even though such fevers may occur frequently.
Lupus may cause the thinning or loss of hair as a result of inflammation of the skin and scalp. Some people with lupus lose hair in clumps but it is more common for a person’s hair to thin out slowly.
In addition to losing hair from their heads, some people may experience thinning of the beard, eyebrows, eyelashes, and other body hair as a result of lupus. It can also cause “lupus hair,” where the hair feels brittle, breaks easily, and looks generally ragged.
About 50 percent of people with lupus develop its most visible symptom, a “butterfly-shaped” rash on the cheeks and over the bridge of the nose. It can pop up suddenly or appear after exposure to sunlight and, for some people appears just before a flare-up. People with lupus may experience non-itchy lesions in other areas and are often sensitive to the sun or even artificial light. Some people may experience discoloration of the fingers or the toes.
People may experience inflammation of the pulmonary system as a result of lupus. The lungs, lung blood vessels, and even the diaphragm can be affected, which can lead to chest pain when breathing in. Over time, this can worsen, shrinking the lungs and leading to ongoing chest pain and shortness of breath.
It’s also possible for a person with lupus to develop nephritis, which is an inflammation of the kidneys, making it harder for them to filter out toxins and waste from the blood. Outward symptoms are swelling in the legs and feet, high blood pressure, darker urine that may contain blood, having to urinate more frequently at night, and pain in your side.
The inflammation that comes with lupus may also cause pain, stiffness, and visible swelling in your joints, especially in the morning. It may be mild at first and gradually increase over time. Like other lupus symptoms, the joint problems may come and go.
Some people with lupus may experience occasional gastrointestinal problems. That may include heartburn, acid reflux, or other problems. If you have frequent heartburn or acid reflux, try reducing the size of your meals, avoid caffeinated beverages, and don’t lie down immediately after a meal.
People with lupus may also develop autoimmune thyroid disease. Problems with the thyroid, which helps regulate the metabolism, can cause weight gain or loss, dry skin and hair, moodiness, or even affect the brain heart and kidneys.
Lupus may also result in Sjogren’s disease, which is another autoimmune disorder that affects the glands responsible for tears and saliva. That can cause dryness of the eyes, mouth, and of the vagina in women.
There is a long list of other symptoms in addition to these 10 main ones. Among them are oral ulcers, enlarged lymph nodes, muscle pain, chest pain, osteoporosis and depression. Not everyone gets all these symptoms and while some symptoms pop up, others may go away. Speak to your doctor if you think you might have lupus.