Lupus is a chronic (long-term) disease that can cause inflammation and pain in any part of your body. It’s an autoimmune disease, which means that your immune system — the body system that usually fights infections — attacks healthy tissue instead.
Lupus most commonly affects your:
- Internal organs, like your kidneys and heart
Because lupus affects many parts of the body, it can cause a lot of different symptoms. Inflammation usually happens when your immune system is fighting an infection or an injury. When lupus makes your immune system attack healthy tissue, it can cause inflammation in lots of different body parts. Symptoms can include swelling and pain.
Anyone can develop lupus. But certain people are at higher risk for lupus, including:
- Women ages 15 to 44
- Certain racial or ethnic groups — including people who are African American, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, or Pacific Islander
- People who have a family member with lupus or another autoimmune disease
What are the early symptoms of lupus?
There is no one first sign or symptom of lupus. The early signs and symptoms of lupus are generally the same as the symptoms of lupus, including extreme fatigue, joint pain, or a butterfly rash. However, the early signs vary widely from person to person.
A doctor can help you with a diagnosis to determine if the symptoms you’re feeling could possibly be lupus. To help you, we created the Could It Be Lupus questionnaire. Answer the questions about yourself and your signs and symptoms, and then print out your answers to share with your doctor.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. …
- Rosacea and other skin rashes. …
- Dermatomyositis. …
- Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease. …
- Hashimoto’s disease. …
- Sjögren’s syndrome. …
Joint and muscle pain is often the first sign of lupus. This pain tends to occur on both sides of the body at the same time, particularly in the joints of the wrists, hands, fingers, and knees. The joints may look inflamed and feel warm to the touch.
What is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)?
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common form of lupus — 70 % of people with lupus have it. It’s what most people mean when they refer to “lupus”.
SLE can cause inflammation of multiple organs or organ systems in the body, either acutely or chronically. In contrast, cutaneous lupus (CLE), is limited to the skin, although in some patients, it may eventually progress to SLE. Drug-induced lupus can be caused by certain prescription medications. It has many of the same symptoms as SLE but rarely affects major organs and disappears about six months after the medication is stopped. Neonatal lupus occurs only in newborns and is not true lupus. Most of the symptoms of neonatal lupus will disappear after six months.
What causes SLE?
Experts don’t know what causes systemic lupus erythematosus, but lupus and other autoimmune diseases do run in families. Women ages 15 to 44 and certain ethnic groups—including African American, Asian American, Hispanics/Latino, and Native American—are at higher risk for developing SLE than the rest of the population.
What are the symptoms of SLE?
Symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) vary from person to person and they may come and go and change over time. Lupus shares symptoms with other diseases, which can make it difficult to diagnose. The most common symptoms include:
- Skin rashes
- Pain or swelling in the joints (arthritis)
- Swelling in the feet, and around the eyes (typically due to kidney involvement)
- Extreme fatigue
- Low fevers
Below is a brief description of some of the more serious complications of systemic lupus erythematosus involving major organ systems.
- Inflammation of the kidneys—called lupus nephritis—can affect the body’s ability to filter waste from the blood. It can be so damaging that dialysis or a kidney transplant may be needed.
- Inflammation of the nervous system and brain can cause memory problems, confusion, headaches, and strokes.
- Inflammation in the brain’s blood vessels can cause high fevers, seizures, and behavioral changes.
- Hardening of the arteries or coronary artery disease—the buildup of deposits on coronary artery walls—can lead to a heart attack.
- Inflammation of the skin can cause rashes, sores, and ulcers throughout the body. About half of all people with systemic lupus erythematosus will develop a malar rash — a butterfly-shaped rash mostly seen across the cheeks and nose that can get worse in the sunlight
What is cutaneous lupus?
Approximately two-thirds of people with lupus will develop some type of skin disease, called cutaneous lupus erythematosus. Skin disease in lupus can cause rashes or sores (lesions), most of which will appear on sun-exposed areas such as the face, ears, neck, arms, and legs. 40-70 percent of people with lupus will find that their disease is made worse by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight or artificial light.
A dermatologist (a physician who specializes in caring for the skin) should treat lupus skin rashes and lesions. He or she will usually examine the tissue under a microscope to determine whether a lesion or rash is due to cutaneous lupus. Taking the tissue sample is called a biopsy
What is drug-induced lupus?
Drug-induced lupus is a lupus-like disease caused by certain prescription drugs.
The drugs most commonly connected with drug-induced lupus are:
- hydralazine (used to treat high blood pressure or hypertension)
- procainamide (used to treat irregular heart rhythms)
- isoniazid (used to treat tuberculosis)
Drug-induced lupus is more common in men because they are given these drugs more often; however, not everyone who takes these drugs will develop the disease.
The symptoms of drug-induced lupus
Specific criteria for diagnosing drug-induced lupus have not been formally established. However, symptoms often overlap with those of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). These include:
- muscle and joint pain sometimes with swelling
- flu-like symptoms of fatigue and fever
- serositis (inflammation around the lungs or heart that causes pain or discomfort)
- certain laboratory test abnormalities
While the symptoms of drug-induced lupus are similar to those of systemic lupus, only rarely will any major organs be affected.
How quickly does drug-induced lupus develop?
It usually takes several months or even years of continuous therapy with the medication before symptoms appear. For people treated for one to two years at currently used doses of the high-risk drugs, approximately 5% of those taking hydralazine and 20% of those taking procainamide will develop drug-induced lupus. With most of the other drugs, the risk is less than 1% and usually less than 0.1% that those taking the medication will develop drug-induced lupus.
How long will drug-induced lupus continue?
The lupus-like symptoms usually disappear within six months after these medications are stopped.
What is neonatal lupus?
Neonatal lupus is not true lupus. It is a rare condition associated with anti-SSA/Ro and/or anti-SSB/La antibodies from the mother that affect the fetus. At birth, the baby may have a skin rash, liver problems, or low blood cell counts, but these symptoms typically disappear completely after six months with no lasting effects.
The most serious symptom is congenital heart block, which causes a slow heartbeat. Although very rare, newborns of women with lupus are at greater risk for developing this potentially life-threatening complication. Congenital heart block is usually detected when the fetus is between 18 and 24 weeks old. The condition does not disappear, and affected infants will eventually need a pacemaker.
With proper testing, physicians can now identify most at-risk mothers, and the infant can be treated at or before birth. Most infants of mothers with lupus are entirely healthy.
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