Lupus symptoms: Pictures, types, and diagnosis (2022)

Lupus can be challenging to diagnose because its signs and symptoms may resemble those of other health conditions. The symptoms can also vary widely from person to person.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects about 5 million people around the world. An autoimmune disease is a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy organs or tissues.

The role of the immune system is to fight off foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. In a person with lupus, the immune system mistakes healthy body tissues for harmful substances.

As a result, it initiates an inflammatory attack on healthy tissues, causing symptoms that range from skin rashes to joint swelling to headaches.

Lupus is a chronic condition, which means that it lasts for months to years. To date, there is no cure for lupus, but a doctor can help a person control and manage their symptoms.

In this article, learn more about lupus symptoms and how they appear.

Symptoms

(Video) Lupus Signs & Symptoms (& Why They Occur) | Skin, Joints, Organ Systems

The immune system’s attack can affect many different body parts and systems. As a result, lupus can cause a wide variety of symptoms that may be different from person to person.

The symptoms of lupus may appear or get worse during flares. Once a flare is over, a person may have mild or no symptoms for weeks, months, or even years.

A person with lupus may notice some of the following symptoms.

Butterfly rash

Many people with lupus experience a red or purplish rash that extends from the bridge of the nose over to the cheeks in a shape that resembles that of a butterfly.

The rash may be smooth, or it may have a scaly or bumpy texture. It can look like a sunburn.

The medical term for this type of rash is a malar rash. Other conditions can cause a malar rash, however, so this symptom alone is not enough to indicate lupus. Other conditions that cause a malar rash include:

  • rosacea
  • cellulitis
  • erysipelas, a type of cellulitis
  • sunburn

In some cases, a doctor may treat the malar rash with prescription creams or ointments. These medications may include steroids to minimize inflammation. In other cases, a doctor may prescribe medicines that help stop immune system activity.

Sores or red patches on the skin

Lupus can cause two main types of lesion or sore:

  • Discoid lupus lesions, which are thick and disk-shaped. They often appear on the scalp or face and can cause permanent scarring. They may be red and scaly, but they do not cause pain or itching.
  • Subacute cutaneous lesions, which may look like patches of scaly skin or ring-shaped sores. They usually appear on areas of skin that get exposure to the sun, such as the arms, shoulders, and neck. They do not cause scarring.

Both types of lesion are photosensitive, which means that they are highly sensitive to sunlight.

People who have these types of lesion should avoid being out in the sunlight as much as possible, use sunscreen, wear sun-protective clothing, and limit or avoid exposure to fluorescent light.

Hair loss

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Lupus can cause the hair to get thinner or fall out, either in patches or all over. Many different factors lead to hair loss in people with lupus, including:

(Video) Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) - causes, symptoms, diagnosis & pathology

  • Discoid lupus sores on the scalp or other areas can cause hair to fall out temporarily. If the sores produce a scar, hair loss can be permanent in that area.
  • Severe lupus can cause temporary hair loss if there is inflammation of the skin. The hair usually grows back when a person takes medication to manage the symptoms.
  • Some medications that treat lupus can cause hair loss. For example, some steroids and immunosuppressants can cause the hair to become brittle and break, leading to hair loss.

Joint swelling and pain

One of the most common symptoms of lupus is joint problems. Lupus may cause swollen, tender, stiff, or warm joints.

These issues usually affect the extremities, including the fingers, toes, wrists, knees, and ankles. Although lupus is not a type of arthritis, the inflammation that it causes can result in symptoms of arthritis.

Sun sensitivity

A person with lupus may have photosensitivity, which is a sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) light. They may notice that they get sunburned more easily than other people.

The sun can also trigger the development of skin lesions, such as a butterfly rash or discoid lupus.

Cold, blue, or pale hands or feet

Some people with lupus experience Raynaud’s phenomenon, which affects the blood vessels in the fingers, toes, hands, or feet.

Raynaud’s phenomenon makes the blood vessels in the extremities constrict, which turns the extremities blue or pale, as well as causing tingling, numbness, and pain.

A person may notice this reaction when they are in cold temperatures or under stress.

A person may be able to manage their Raynaud’s symptoms by avoiding cold temperatures, dressing warmly in gloves, socks, and boots, and using stress management techniques, such as meditation and relaxation.

Dry, red, or irritated eyes and vision problems

Lupus can affect the eyes and the area around the eyes in several ways:

  • The retina may have an inadequate blood supply, leading to vision loss.
  • Discoid lupus lesions can appear on the eyelids.
  • The tear glands may not produce enough tears, leading to dry eyes.
  • The outer layer of the eye may become inflamed and red, which is an effect called scleritis.

Additional symptoms

Other possible symptoms of lupus include:

  • chest pain when taking a deep breath
  • headaches
  • severe fatigue
  • fever
  • anemia (low red blood cell count or low blood volume)
  • weak muscles or reduced strength
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • tendonitis (irritation of a tendon)
  • kidney problems
  • heart problems
  • confusion

Types of lupus

(Video) Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE): Symptoms, Diagnose And Treatment | Rheumatology

Doctors categorize lupus into four different types. These types share common symptoms but have different causes.

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus is the most common form of lupus. It can affect many different organs and body systems.
  • Cutaneous lupus erythematosus only affects the skin. It may cause discoid sores, subacute cutaneous lesions, and a butterfly rash. It does not cause joint pain, anemia, or any other symptoms that do not relate to the skin.
  • Drug-induced lupus erythematosus can happen when a person takes certain prescription medicines. Its symptoms are similar to those of systemic lupus, but they usually go away when the person stops taking the medication.
  • Neonatal lupus can occur when a person has lupus during pregnancy, causing their baby to develop lupus-like symptoms. Antibodies can cause a skin rash, low blood cell counts, or liver problems in the infant. These symptoms usually go away without treatment within a few months. Most people with lupus have babies without these problems.

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To diagnose lupus, a doctor will:

  • discuss a person’s symptoms and medical history
  • perform blood tests to look for particular antibodies and proteins, check blood cell counts, and measure clotting ability
  • urine tests to check kidney function
  • a biopsy of the skin, kidneys, or both

There is no single test that can diagnose lupus. Instead, doctors must look at the results of several different tests and consider the person’s symptoms.

They may also need to rule out other health conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

Treatment

(Video) Cutaneous Lupus - Yale Medicine Explains

Treatment for lupus focuses on managing lupus flares and preventing them when possible.

Treating symptoms promptly can help avoid complications that can damage the body’s organs and systems. A person may need to take medications and see their doctor regularly.

Some medications that doctors recommend to help with lupus symptoms include:

  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce swelling and pain in the joints and muscles
  • steroids to fight inflammation
  • antimalarial drugs, which help decrease the immune system’s activity and reduce photosensitivity
  • immunosuppressive drugs, which control the overactive immune response
  • anticoagulants to help prevent blood clots

A person can work with their doctor to decide which medications and treatment options are best for them.

Some people may wish to use alternative treatments to help manage their lupus symptoms. While there is no conclusive evidence to confirm that any alternative treatments work, some people may find that they help with certain symptoms.

Before trying any alternative treatment, it is important to talk to a doctor. Some of these treatments may interfere with other medications. In addition, a person should never replace the medications that their doctor prescribed them with alternative treatments.

With proper treatment, many people who have lupus can live full, active lives. However, it is vital that they see a doctor regularly and follow an individualized treatment plan to avoid serious complications of the disease.

Dealing with a chronic disease can be challenging. People with lupus may wish to connect with others who have the condition for emotional support and encouragement.

The Lupus Foundation of America list their support groups by state, and there are other lupus support groups in some states. The Lupus Research Alliance also have an online community forum for people with lupus and their loved ones.

(Video) Lupus - Signs & Symptoms

FAQs

What does lupus marks look like? ›

A tell-tale sign of lupus is a butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks and bridge of the nose. Other common skin problems include sensitivity to the sun with flaky, red spots or a scaly, purple rash on various parts of the body, including the face, neck, and arms.

What are the 11 indicators of lupus? ›

The 11 Signs of Lupus: What You Need to Know
  • A butterfly-shaped rash across both sides of the face.
  • Raised, red skin patches.
  • Sensitivity to light.
  • Ulcers in the mouth or nose.
  • Arthritis plus swelling or tenderness in two or more joints.
  • Seizures or other nervous system problems.
  • Excessive protein in urine.
Oct 24, 2019

What is the first stage of lupus? ›

Fatigue, fever, joint pain and weight changes are usually the first signs of lupus. Some adults may have a period of SLE symptoms known as flares, which may occur frequently, sometimes even years apart and resolve at other times—called remission. Other symptoms include: Sun sensitivity.

What was your first lupus symptom? ›

Thinning hair is often one of the first symptoms of lupus. Hair loss is the result of inflammation of the skin and scalp.

How does lupus show up in blood work? ›

A low white blood cell or platelet count may occur in lupus as well. Erythrocyte sedimentation rate. This blood test determines the rate at which red blood cells settle to the bottom of a tube in an hour. A faster than normal rate may indicate a systemic disease, such as lupus.

How do you get tested for lupus? ›

Common tests used to diagnose lupus
  • Routine blood tests. Usually, your doctor will first request a complete blood count (CBC). ...
  • Antibody blood tests. The body uses antibodies to attack and neutralize foreign substances like bacteria and viruses. ...
  • Blood clotting time. ...
  • Other blood tests. ...
  • Urine tests. ...
  • Tissue biopsies.

What can trigger lupus? ›

Lupus can be triggered by certain types of blood pressure medications, anti-seizure medications and antibiotics. People who have drug-induced lupus usually get better when they stop taking the medication. Rarely, symptoms may persist even after the drug is stopped.

What is borderline lupus? ›

Borderline lupus, which can also be known as unspecified connective tissue disease, or probable lupus, or latent lupus, would define a patient who may have a positive ANA without a DNA or Smith antibody (blood tests used to diagnose lupus), who has arthralgias rather than arthritis, a brain fog or memory loss, and no ...

What triggers lupus flare ups? ›

Lupus flare-ups can be triggered by stress, infection, or missed doses of medication. To prevent a lupus flare, focus on your medication schedule, self-care, and sun protection. Hydroxychloroquine is the best medication to help prevent lupus flares.

What if lupus goes untreated? ›

If left untreated, it can put you at risk of developing life-threatening problems such as a heart attack or stroke. In many cases, lupus nephritis does not cause any noticeable symptoms. However, this does not mean the condition is not dangerous, as the kidneys could still be being damaged.

How long can you have lupus without knowing? ›

Lupus symptoms can also be unclear, can come and go, and can change. On average, it takes nearly six years for people with lupus to be diagnosed, from the time they first notice their lupus symptoms.

How do you feel when you have lupus? ›

They may be painless, or you may have soreness or dry mouth. Prolonged or extreme fatigue. You may feel tired or exhausted even when you get enough sleep. Fatigue can also be a warning sign of a lupus flare.

Does lupus rash look like broken blood vessels? ›

These tiny vessels can be dilated or broken near the surface of the skin and appear as fine pink or red lines. This condition can occur with certain autoimmune diseases, including lupus, says Stojan.

What does lupus rash look like on legs? ›

Ring-shaped rash

In people with subacute cutaneous lupus (SCLE), the rash looks like scaly red patches or ring shapes. This rash usually appears on parts of the body that are exposed to sun, such as the arms, shoulders, neck, chest, and trunk.

Can you have lupus for years and not know it? ›

Lupus symptoms can also be unclear, can come and go, and can change. On average, it takes nearly six years for people with lupus to be diagnosed, from the time they first notice their lupus symptoms.

What are the symptoms of lupus in a woman? ›

Common symptoms include fatigue, hair loss, sun sensitivity, painful and swollen joints, unexplained fever, skin rashes, and kidney problems. There is no one test for SLE. Usually, your doctor will ask you about your family and personal medical history and your symptoms.

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