Systemic lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune condition that causes periods of widespread inflammation. No two people experience lupus in the same way, but there are certain key warning signs that are highly suggestive of the disease. Look out for these eleven symptoms, and be sure to mention your concerns to your doctor.
1. Stiff joints
Joint stiffness is a common part of lupus, with most sufferers noting that it is worst in the morning and improves throughout the day (especially after a warm shower or applying a heat patch to the most painful areas). This pain may also be accompanied by swelling, and warrants testing not only for lupus but also for other conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. It’s important to note that joint pain and stiffness shouldn’t be discounted just because it goes away; in fact, a pattern of regular flare-ups is characteristic of autoimmune disease.
2. Fever without underlying infection
People with lupus often note that repetitive, low-grade fevers (between 98.5 and 101 degrees) first alerted them to the fact that something was wrong. In some, these feverish episodes are precursors to an episode of particularly prominent joint discomfort, so be sure to note any pain patterns associated with your high temperature.
3. Thinning hair
Another early warning sign, you may notice that large amounts of hair are falling out during brushing or you might slowly realize that your hair has lost its former thickness. This symptom is caused by skin and scalp inflammation, and may also thin your body hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. The good news is that receiving a diagnosis of lupus often leads to effective treatment that revitalizes hair growth.
4. The “butterfly rash”
About half of all people with lupus develop what is commonly known as the “butterfly rash” (or “malar rash”). This term refers to a characteristic red or pink pattern on the face that typically covers the bridge of the rose and the tops of the cheeks. However, some people only notice skin inflammation in one of these places. The rash may develop suddenly, just prior to a flare-up of pain symptoms, or in response to recent sun exposure.
5. Debilitating fatigue
The Johns Hopkins Lupus Center reports that at least 90% of lupus patients struggle with fatigue to varying degrees. For example, you might find that you need an afternoon nap in order to regain the energy required to make it through a full day, or you may find that no amount of sleep leaves you feeling rested. While fatigue is a hallmark of many chronic illnesses, it should be considered a potential indication of lupus if there are other warning signs present.
A type of kidney inflammation, nephritis is associated with diminished ability to filter and excrete toxins in the blood. Sometimes picked up though a urine test showing unexpectedly high levels of protein, this warning sign of lupus can also cause high blood pressure, swelling in the limbs, flank pain and darkened urine.
7. Raynaud’s phenomenon
If you suffer from Raynaud’s, the blood vessels in your hands and feet are over-sensitive and cause spasms in cold temperatures. This can be painful and is usually associated with a color chance to white, then eventually blue. These changes can last for just a few minutes or may remain for hours after you’ve been outside or touched something cold. While primary Raynaud’s phenomenon develops in the absence of any worrying underlying condition, secondary Raynaud’s is associated with lupus, as well as arthritis and scleroderma (a condition that causes hardening of the skin). There is no way to know which type of Raynaud’s you have without discussing it with a doctor.
8. Skin lesions
In addition to the aforementioned facial rash, lupus can cause you to develop lesions on other parts of the body (often the arms or hands). These lesions rarely itch or feel painful, and you may notice that they appear or multiply after sun exposure.
9. Autoimmune thyroid dysfunction
Problems with the thyroid gland tend to develop after someone has had lupus for a while, but in rare cases it may be the first symptom of lupus that is noticed. Since your thyroid gland regulates your metabolic rate, you can notice unintended weight gain or weight loss if it stops working properly.
10. Chest pain
If your chest hurts when you take a deep breath, the first obvious explanations might be a muscle strain or asthma. However, if all of these explanations have been discounted, it may be lupus that is causing inflammation in your lungs.
11. Recurring mouth ulcers
Finally, most people get mouth ulcers from time to time (often caused by trauma, such as accidentally biting your lip). These small, oval sores can be very painful, though they typically heal in 4-14 days. However, those with lupus may develop crops of these ulcers that repeatedly develop after just a couple weeks of respite.