What Is Lupus?
Lupus is an autoimmune disorder which causes inflammation in the body. It has a vast array of symptoms and effects each person differently. While some individuals may be barely affected by the disease, others will find themselves ravaged in significant ways.
Symptoms of lupus usually begin in early adulthood, starting as early as the teenage years up through a person’s 30’s. Unfortunately, like most autoimmune disorders, the early symptoms can be easy to miss, especially since there tend to be flare-ups followed by remissions.
It’s crucial to understand that just because you have symptoms doesn’t mean you have lupus. The symptoms are similar to other disorders – thyroid disorders, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia – so you need to be tested to have a clear diagnosis. In fact, lupus can be so similar to other disorders that experts have called it “the great imitator”. Some people may experience symptoms for years without realizing the cause.
So what exactly are those symptoms? Here are 10:
Symptom #1: Abnormal, Unexplained Fevers
If you get low-grade fevers unexpectedly and for no apparent reason, it may be an early sign of lupus. The fever will probably be somewhere between 98.5 and 101 degrees Fahrenheit, making you think it’s unnecessary to see a doctor. Typically, with lupus, these fevers come intermittently.
If you are experiencing these low-grade fevers it could be a sign of infection in your body, inflammation, or a flare-up about to happen. If you see this symptom make an appointment with your doctor.
Symptom #2: Mysterious Rash Or Lesions
Almost 50% of individuals afflicted by lupus develop a butterfly shaped rash over the bridge of their nose and both of their cheeks. The rash can emerge quickly or after sunlight exposure. Lupus can also result in lesions that do not itch on other parts of the body and will occasionally cause hives.
Another symptom caused by lupus is being sensitive to sunlight or artificial light.
Symptom #3: Hair Loss
Yes, thinning hair affects those who are getting older, but it also can be an early sign of lupus. If you find yourself unexpectedly losing hair, consider making an appointment with your doctor.
Why does lupus lead to thinning hair? Lupus causes inflammation of the skin and scalp, causing some people to lose hair in clumps. For others it thins out more slowly. Some individuals experience a thinning of the beard, eyebrows, eyelashes, and other body hair. In fact, this symptom has been called “lupus hair”.
The good news is that if you treat lupus soon enough you will see your hair growth return. However, if you begin to develop lesions on your scalp, your hair loss may be permanent in those areas.
Symptom #4: Significant Fatigue
Fatigue is the most common symptom of Lupus, affecting as high as 90% of those who have the disease. Some people find that they can beat the exhaustion with a simple afternoon nap while others find that napping leads to insomnia at night. If you are able to maintain an active lifestyle and stick to a routine you may have success keeping your energy levels high. However, if the fatigue becomes too much you should speak to your doctor because he may be able to treat it.
Symptom #5: Pulmonary Problems
If you experience inflammation in your pulmonary system it may be yet another indicator that you have lupus. The lungs may become inflamed, the blood vessels in them may swell, and occasionally even your diaphragm can be affected. All of these symptoms together contribute to pain when you breathe in, which is also called pleuritic chest pain.
As time passes, lupus can actually shrink the size of your lungs, which is called “vanishing lung syndrome”. This often results in recurring chest pain and shortness of breath.
Symptom #6: Gastrointestinal Issues
Occasionally, those with lupus will experience heartburn, reflux, and other gastrointestinal problems. If the symptoms are only mild, you may be able to treat them with simple over-the-counter and medications. If these don’t do the trick, consider cutting down on the size of your meals and avoiding beverages with caffeine. If none of these work, see your doctor so that he can make a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Symptom #7: Inflamed Kidneys
Another common symptom of Lupus is nephritis, which is kidney inflammation. This inflammation makes it difficult for the kidneys to filter out waste and toxins from the blood. It usually occurs within five years of contracting lupus.
If you have nephritis, you may see your lower legs and feet swell as well as have high blood pressure. It’s possible that you may see blood in your urine and have to go to the bathroom more frequently during the night. As soon as you’re diagnosed with lupus you should begin having your kidneys monitored. If left untreated, nephritis can lead to end stage renal disease.
Symptom #8: Swollen Joints
Inflammation created by lupus can lead to swelling, stiffness, and pain in your joints. This pain appears especially in the morning and often lessens during the day. As with most of the other symptoms of lupus, you may see this come and go.
Your doctor should be able to tell you whether the pain in your joints is from lupus, arthritis, or some other condition. If standard over-the-counter treatments don’t effectively reduce the pain, talk to your doctor.
Symptom #9: Malfunctioning Tear and Saliva Glands
Lupus inevitably leads dry mouth and it can also cause dry eyes. Why the dry mouth and eyes? Because those afflicted will also develop another autoimmune disorder called Sjogren’s Syndrome, which results in malfunctioning tear and saliva glands.
Your doctor may be able to provide treatment for these issues.
Symptom #10: Thyroid Problems
It’s also quite common for people with lupus to develop auto-immune thyroid issues. Because the thyroid helps control your metabolism, a poorly functioning thyroid can cause damage to vital organs such as your heart, brain, kidneys, and liver.
It can also result in weight gain or loss. Additional problems may include dry skin and hair.
Fortunately, there are a variety of treatments for an overactive or underactive thyroid.
Lupus can cause other symptoms as well, such as muscle pain, chest pain, osteoporosis, and depression. On rare occasions it can cause anemia, dizziness, and seizures.
Not everyone will experience every symptom, and there will be times when some new symptoms appear and old ones fade away.
Complications If Left Untreated
If lupus is not treated, it can cause a number of significant complications. These complications include lung damage, kidney damage, metabolic and thyroid disorders, damage to connective tissues, and increased risk for heart disease.
Those with lupus may also experience increased occurrence of depression and anxiety. Additionally, those afflicted may experience cognitive challenges and even occasionally strokes.
This is why it’s essential to be tested for lupus. Failing to treat the disease can result in a host of health problems as time goes on.
Thankfully, lupus can be treated by your doctor. While doctors often use a variety of drugs to treat the disease, only a few have been approved by the FDA as specifically for lupus. They include:
- Corticosteroids, including prednisone, prednisolone, methylprednisolone, and hydrocortisone
- Antimalarials, such as hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil®) and chloroquine
- The monoclonal antibody belimumab (Benlysta®)
- Acthar (repository corticotropin injection), which contains a naturally occurring hormone called ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone)
Once you begin treatment, your doctor will also help you create a specific plan for developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The plan will typically address:
- Preventing flares and reducing them when they happen.
- Controlling your symptoms.
- Reducing your inflammation caused by the disease.
- Minimizing organ damage.
- And more.
Lupus doesn’t need to ruin your life. It can be treated and managed through the skilled care of a physician. If you think you may have lupus, contact your doctor to set up an appointment.