Lupus: What Are The Symptoms?

Identifying lupus is not always easy since the associated symptoms can vary quite a lot from person to person. Furthermore, the symptoms tend to come and go, most noticeable during a lupus flare.

"There’s no way to predict when a flare will occur," said Francis Luk, of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Here are a few potential signs to keep an eye out for. Though some of them sound vague, it is recommended that you speak to a doctor if any of these symptoms are considerably affecting your well-being.

1. Joint pain

Painful joints are among the first signs of lupus and may affect up to 70 percent of patients, said Jill Buyon, of NYU Langone Health. While it may seem like something you could mistake for rheumatoid arthritis, there are minor differences to watch out for.

The textbook difference between the two, according to Buyon, is that lupus can "affect joints on one side and not the other," while rheumatoid arthritis "usually affects both sides equally."

2. Skin rash

Many patients of lupus experience a flare-up in their symptoms which is caused by ultraviolet radiation. This is due to the light sensitivity associated with the disease.

One of the most common symptoms is a rash that develops on the face when exposed to the sun. The rash is shaped like a butterfly, primarily covering the nose and cheeks of the patient. Cedars Sinai, a nonprofit hospital based in California, notes that some people may also end up with a raised rash on other parts of the body like the arms, chest, or back. 

3. Breathing difficulties

Given that lupus can attack the linings of the lungs or the heart, shortness of breath is another potential symptom. Buyon explains that this process causes fluid to leak out and surround the lungs.

"In some cases, that same process can occur around the lining of the heart, which is called pericarditis," she added. Certain patients may even experience chest pain when trying to breathe.

4. Weight changes, fatigue 

The autoimmune disease can reduce energy levels by causing anemia, a condition where red blood cells are low in numbers. In serious cases, the patient may also face kidney problems which also contribute to fatigue.

In relation, a poorly functioning kidney can lead the patient to gain weight as a result of water retention. But on the flip side, some patients may also lose weight unintentionally when lupus affects their thyroid and other hormones.

5. Lupus fog

Lupus also takes a toll on the central nervous system which can induce some neurological issues. Some of the symptoms may include poor memory, confusion, mood swings, and concentration problems, as noted by the Lupus Foundation of America. Collectively, such symptoms are referred to as "lupus fog" and may be accompanied by increased stress levels and headaches.