The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that 90 percent of the 1.5 million Americans who suffer from lupus are women. The disease typically strikes during childbearing years and can cause kidney disease, coronary artery disease, osteoporosis and complications during pregnancy if left untreated. This makes it imperative for those afflicted to understand and important to ask what are the symptoms of lupus, and to then get a proper diagnosis as soon as possible. The first step in getting a diagnosis is understanding and recognizing lupus’ signs and symptoms, which can manifest as skin issues, joint and organ problems and general unwellness.
What are the Symptoms of Lupus: Skin Issues
One of the early symptoms of lupus—systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and cutaneous lupus—often cause skin issues, mainly rashes – not to be mistaken for symptoms of a yeast infection. The classic lupus butterfly rash develops on the face, covering the bridge of the nose and cheeks. The skin can be flushed like a blush or have a more typical rash appearance, complete with scaliness or itchiness. It can be blotchy or a solid red over the entire area. In some cases, the rash is flat; in other cases, the rash is raised. If it’s a lupus-associated butterfly rash, the sides of the nostrils and the area between the nose and mouth typically remain unaffected.
Cutaneous lupus can be either subacute or discoid. Both cause a variety of skin issues in addition to the butterfly rash. Subacute cutaneous lupus causes lesions in response to sun exposure. With discoid lupus, round or disk-shaped sores appear, mostly on the face or scalp but sometimes on other parts of the body as well. These rashes do not itch but they can scar, cause hair loss and lead to skin discoloration. These rashes are usually red and scaly but sometimes fade to a darker brown. Sunlight aggravates these rashes, so if you develop them, cover up and use sunscreen or stay indoors during the brightest part of the day.
Lupus Joint and Organ Problems
With lupus, your immune system attacks your joints and organs, causing inflammation. The symptoms change depending on which bodily systems lupus attacks.
If the inflammation affects your joints, they become stiff, painful or swollen. Inflammation in the esophagus leads to heartburn and difficulty swallowing. When lupus attacks the digestive system, the result is nausea, diarrhea or constipation.
Damage to the renal system makes it difficult for your kidneys to filter wastes. This causes swelling, particularly in your legs, feet, hands, ankles and even eyelids. Your urine could have a foamy appearance or contain blood.
What are the symptoms of Lupus in the Circulatory System?
Lupus also affects the heart and circulatory system. If the sac surrounding your heart—the pericardium—becomes inflamed, the result is sharp chest pains and problems breathing. If the muscle tissue itself is inflamed, the two main symptoms are chest pains and a fast or irregular heartbeat.
In addition to heart issues, lupus causes various blood-related problems, such as anemia and high or low numbers of white blood cells. This causes bruising and petechiae, which look like a rash but are actually small reddish or sometimes purplish dots of blood that have hemorrhaged into the skin.
What are the symptoms of lupus in the lungs? When lupus causes inflammation in the lungs, pleurisy and chronic diffuse interstitial lung disease can occur. Pleurisy is the inflammation of the lining that covers your lungs. It causes problems breathing and chest pain that gets worse when you take deep breaths or cough. With chronic diffuse interstitial lung disease, chronic inflammation causes scarring of the lung tissue. The most common signs are chest pains and a dry cough that won’t go away.
Lupus Symptoms in Women: General Unwellness
One of the most frustrating things about lupus is its tendency to cause general feelings of poor health. Women with lupus may feel tired all the time or begin sleeping more than usual. Headaches are common, as are fevers, dry eyes and muscle pain. Memory problems and a “foggy” feeling can also occur. These symptoms often seem minor and can easily be mistaken for the flu or a common cold.
When it comes to lupus, there is no one-size-fits-all checklist of symptoms. The disease can affect multiple body systems and the signs of lupus will vary for each woman. While this can make it tough to get a proper diagnosis, early detection is one of the keys to managing the disorder, preventing long-term damage and having a long, healthy life.