Lupus affects everyone differently. Some people have very mild and a slow worsening of symptoms, while some have quite severe and life-threatening symptoms that appear suddenly.
As with many autoimmune diseases, symptoms of lupus can come and go. Here are some of the common symptoms of lupus:
- Joint pain. Inflammation caused by an overactive immune system can result in painful, swollen joints.
- Rash. One of the hallmarks of lupus is a malar rash, a butterfly-shaped rash that spans the cheeks and bridge of the nose and may resemble sunburn. Lupus can also cause a scaly, disk-shaped rash on the face, neck, ears, scalp and/or chest.
- Hair loss. Hair loss can be caused by lupus itself or by medications taken to treat it.
- Sensitivity to light. Many people with lupus are photosensitive, meaning they are unusually sensitive to ultraviolet light from sunlight and artificial light. Lupus symptoms can worsen with exposure to sunlight, which can also cause rash, fatigue and headaches.
- Fatigue. Everyone gets tired from time to time, but people with lupus may experience fatigue that doesn’t go away with rest.
- Trouble breathing. People with lupus can have chest pain, shortness of breath and a stabbing pain in the chest upon breathing, coughing, laughing or sneezing. In some cases, these are symptoms of inflammation of the lining of the lungs (pleurisy) or the area surrounding the heart (pericarditis).
- Kidney problems. One-third of people with lupus will develop nephritis or inflammation of the kidney. Lupus nephritis can cause high blood pressure, blood in the urine, frothy urine and swelling of the legs. However, lupus nephritis often has no symptoms, so it’s important to have regular urine tests for it.
- Memory problems. Some people with lupus may have memory problems or confusion.
- Mouth sores. Ulcers that form on the mucosal lining of the inside of the mouth are common in people with lupus. They are different from canker sores and are often painless.
- Blood disorders. People with lupus frequently experience blood disorders, including anemia, low platelet count (thrombocytopenia), low white blood cell count (leukopenia) and blood clots (thrombosis). Uncontrolled thrombosis can lead to serious conditions such as stroke.
People with lupus may also have dryness in certain areas of the body caused by the lupus itself or another autoimmune condition called Sjögren’s syndrome, which can develop along with lupus. This can cause:
- Vaginal dryness. Lubricating products and estrogen creams can help restore moisture and ease discomfort. Talk to a doctor about which products may be helpful.
- Dry eyes and dry mouth. Sugar-free lemon drops and frequent sips of water can help dry mouth. Eye drops can help dry eyes. Medications may help with both conditions.