Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation, can cause a wide range of signs and symptoms. The most common form of the disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, can involve any major organ system in the body, says Neil Kramer, M.D., MD, director of the Rheumatic and Autoimmune Disease Institute at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, New Jersey. “Therefore, the first signs and symptoms vary from patient to patient.”
The variety of symptoms that can cause lupus makes it difficult to diagnose. Another reason why this disease can be difficult to identify is that the most common symptoms, such as fatigue, headache, joint pain, swelling, and fever, are present in many other diseases. Lupus can mimic rheumatoid arthritis, blood disorders, fibromyalgia, diabetes, thyroid disease, and more, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. (1)
So what are the signs that it could be lupus?
The most common signs and symptoms of lupus
A rash after exposure to the sun
Unexplained fever and pain
Swelling and stiffness of joints
Excessive or unexplained fatigue
Mouth or nose sores
Raynaud’s syndrome (fingers turn white or blue when cold)
Dr. Kramer says a common early symptom of lupus is a photosensitive rash, a rash that reacts to sunlight, especially on the face and upper arms. Other early symptoms include unexplained fever, pain, swelling, and stiffness in many joints. Complications such as inflammation of the lining around the lungs and heart can occur early, he added.
If you notice any of these symptoms or a combination of these symptoms that cannot be explained by another problem or illness that you know of, see your doctor. With early diagnosis and treatment, lupus and many of its complications can be alleviated, says Stuart D. Kaplan, MD, a rheumatologist at Mount Nassau South in Hewlett, New York.
Read more about the most common early signs and late symptoms of lupus here to help you better identify and learn about the symptoms that may indicate lupus.
Most people with lupus develop hives
Roberto Caricchio, MD, chief of rheumatology at Temple University Lewis Katz School of Medicine and director of the Temple Lupus Program at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, says many people with lupus have some form of rash. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, two-thirds of people with lupus have a skin rash, and it is estimated that 40 to 70 percent of people with lupus have symptoms that are made worse by exposure to the sun or certain types of radiation. artificial light. (2)
Cutaneous urticaria, one of the main types of lupus, is limited to skin symptoms such as rashes and lesions. People with cutaneous lupus erythematosus often develop a discoid rash. It appears as a round, raised, red spot that can cause scarring, explains Dr. Caricchio. “It’s usually limited to small areas on the neck, like the ears and scalp,” he says. The rash usually does not itch or cause discomfort.
Another subtype of cutaneous lupus erythematosus is acute cutaneous lupus erythematosus, with which people develop thick, scaly, red lesions that usually do not scar or itch.
Some people with both types of cutaneous lupus experience only skin symptoms, while for others, the lupus may develop into systemic lupus erythematosus, meaning it can affect other parts of the body.
It’s important to note that people who are first diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (or SLE) may develop a lupus rash. One common rash seen in people with systemic lupus erythematosus is a malar rash. It is also called butterfly rash; It spreads across the bridge of the nose and cheeks and is a symptom of the disease because its appearance is so distinctive, Caricchio said. Malaria rash can be flat or raised. It’s usually not painful, but it can itch and burn. (3) The rash may also appear on other parts of the body, such as the arms, legs, or trunk.
People with lupus should be aware that most rashes and sometimes other symptoms are worsened by exposure to the sun, so you may want to avoid it or use sunscreen. It’s important to talk to your doctor about any skin rashes or lesions you notice, as there are many different treatments available, and some may be signs that the disease is developing or changing. You may need other treatments. (If you can’t see your rheumatologist or dermatologist right away, take pictures of new or worsening rashes and send them to your doctor.)