Signs & Symptoms of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Signs and symptoms of lupus can be so varied and ambiguous that it can be difficult to diagnose

What’s more, the symptoms often mimic those of other ailments.

In general, the symptoms of lupus depend on which body systems are affected by the disease but can include fatigue, joint pain, fever, chest pain, shortness of breath, dry eyes, headaches, confusion, a butterfly-shaped rash across the face, and more. Many people with lupus are extremely sensitive to sunlight, and some cannot spend any time outside in sunlight.

No two individuals with lupus are exactly alike. Some people develop symptoms suddenly—whereas others experience a slow onset of the disease. Some people have mild or no symptoms, others severe. Some people experience episodes—called flares—when the symptoms get worse for a period of time and then improve.

To further complicate matters, many people with lupus also suffer from other autoimmune conditions such as Sjögren’s syndrome, fibromyalgia, or rheumatoid arthritis.

Cause

The cause of lupus is unknown, but it is likely a result of some combination of genetics and environment. Some people may have an inherited predisposition to the disease but the disease does not develop until something in the environment triggers it. It is likely that a number of factors contribute to its development. Factors that may trigger symptoms include the environment, stress, sunlight, and certain medicines.

Two of the most common triggers for lupus are exposure to sunlight and certain medications. Because people with lupus are extremely sensitive to sunlight, exposure can trigger an internal response. Some types of anti-seizure and blood pressure medications have been associated with lupus. The disease can also be triggered by infections.

Symptoms of lupus vary, and they may also come and go. A “flare” refers to a time when you are experiencing symptoms. Flares may be mild to severe.

Some of the common symptoms of lupus include:

  • Pain or swelling in joints
  • Muscle pain
  • Fever with no known cause
  • Red rashes, most often on the face
  • Chest pain when taking a deep breath
  • Hair loss
  • Pale purple fingers and toes
  • Sensitivity to the sun
  • Swelling in legs or around eyes
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Swollen glands
  • Feeling very tired

Additional symptoms, which are less common, include:

  • Anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Dizzy spells
  • Feeling sad
  • Confusion
  • Seizures

On the more life-threatening end of the spectrum, lupus can be associated with blood clots, heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure.

References:

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/lupus.htm.

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Lupus/do_i_have_lupus.asp.

Lupus: What Is Lupus? National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Lupus/lupus_ff.asp.

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