Lupus symptoms vary from patient to patient and range from mild to severe. Symptoms also come and go and may change suddenly, depending on which body system the disease is targeting, making lupus very hard to diagnose and manage. Some people with lupus have only one body system affected, like joints or skin. Other times, lupus can attack multiple organs and people experience a variety of symptoms.
Another reason Lupus is so hard to diagnose it that many of these initial and common symptoms occur in other illnesses. Lupus is often called “the great imitator” because it manifests similar to the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, diabetes, thyroid issues, and a number of lung, muscle, heart, blood and bone conditions.
Although no two cases of lupus are alike, there are common symptom that many with the disease experience at some point.
Listening to your body is even more important when you’re living with lupus. Different things, called “triggers,” can cause lupus symptoms to get worse or “flare,” such as spending too much time in the sun, stress, and even certain foods.
It is important to notice and track when symptoms develop or change so you can manage the disease and avoid flares. Tracking also helps to communicate with your health care team to ensure the best care and chronic illness management. Even when there are no lupus symptoms present, the disease may still be active. In addition, when lupus is in remission, the disease itself is still in the body. There is no cure for lupus, yet.
Most Common Symptoms
- Extreme Fatigue
- Painful or swollen joints and muscle pain
- Unexplained fever
- Red rashes, most commonly on the face (sometimes referred to as Malar or Butterfly Rash)
- Chest pain upon deep breathing
- Unusual loss of hair
- Pale or purple fingers or toes from cold or stress (Raynaud’s phenomenon)
- Sensitivity to the sun
- Swelling (edema) in legs or around eyes
- Mouth and nose ulcers
Less Common Symptoms
- Anemia (a decrease in red blood cells)
- Dizzy spells
- Feeling sad/depression
- Memory Loss
- “Seeing things” and not being able to judge reality
- Lupus “Fog”
- Blood clots
- Dry or irritated eyes
Additional information about common Lupus Symptoms from WebMD:
- Fatigue: Nearly all people with lupus have mild to extreme fatigue. Even mild cases of lupus cause an inability to engage in daily activities and exercise. Increased fatigue is a classic sign that a symptom flare is about to occur.
- Joint and muscle pain: Most people with lupus have joint pain (arthritis) at some time. About 70% of people with lupus report that joint and muscle pain was their first sign of the disease. Joints may be red and warm, and may swell. Morning stiffness may also be felt. Lupus arthritis often occurs on both sides of the body at the same time, particularly in the wrists, small joints of the hands, elbows, knees, and ankles.
- Skin problems: Most people with lupus develop skin rashes. These rashes are often an important clue to the diagnosis. In addition to the butterfly rash over the cheeks and bridge of the nose, other common skin symptoms include skin sores or flaky red spots on the arms, hands, face, neck, or back; mouth or lip sores; and a scaly, red or purple raised rash on the face, neck, scalp, ears, arms, and chest.
- Sensitivity to light: Exposure to ultraviolet light (such as sunlight or tanning parlors) typically worsens the skin rash and can trigger lupus flares. Sensitivity to light affects many of those with lupus, with fair-skinned people with lupus tending to be more sensitive.
- Nervous system symptoms: Some people with lupus develop nervous system problems, most commonly headaches. It is not clear whether these are from the lupus itself or whether they are related to the general stress and fatigue of having a chronic illness. More severe symptoms-such as difficulty with memory or concentration, or numbness or weakness of the arms or legs-are not common.
- Heart problems: People with lupus may develop inflammation of the heart sac (pericarditis), which may cause severe, sudden pain in the center of the left side of the chest that may spread to the neck, back, shoulders, or arms.
- Lung problems: People with lupus may develop inflammation of the sac around the lungs (pleurisy), which can cause a stabbing chest pain and coughing.
- Fever: Most people with lupus will sometimes have a low-grade fever related to the disease. Fever is sometimes a first sign of the disease.
- Changes in weight: Many people with lupus lose weight when their disease is active (flaring).
- Hair loss: People with lupus may experience periods of hair loss, either in patches or spread evenly over the head. This hair loss is usually not permanent.
- Swollen glands: Many people with lupus eventually develop swollen lymph glands during a flare.
- Raynaud’s phenomenon: Some people with lupus have Raynaud’s phenomenon. It affects the small vessels that supply blood to the skin and the soft tissues under the skin of the fingers and toes, causing them to turn white and/or blue or red. The skin affected will feel numb, tingly, and cold to the touch.
- Inflammation of blood vessels in the skin (cutaneous vasculitis): Inflammation or bleeding from the blood vessels can lead to small or large blue spots or small reddish spots on the skin or nail beds.
- Swelling of the hands and feet: Some people with lupus have kidney problems, which can prevent extra fluids from being removed from the body tissues. As fluid collects, the hands and feet may swell.
- Mental health problems: People with lupus may develop problems such as anxiety and depression. Such problems can be caused by lupus, the medicines used to treat it, or the stress of coping with chronic illness.
- Anemia: Anemia is a decrease in the amount of the oxygen-carrying substance (hemoglobin) found in red blood cells. Many people with an ongoing disease such as lupus develop anemia because they don’t have enough red blood cells.