Lupus Symptoms That Are Easy to Miss

Lupus affects an estimated 1.5 million Americans, according to The Lupus Foundation of America, and it occurs when something goes wrong with the immune system. Normally the immune system produces antibodies that protect us from viruses and bacteria. But when you have lupus, the immune system can no longer decipher harmful germs from healthy tissue. In turn, it creates a protein that causes inflammation and pain, and damages healthy tissue including the skin, joints, heart, lungs, and the kidneys.

Two Patients Rarely Experience the Same Symptoms

Despite the fact that it can wreak so much havoc on the body, lupus isn’t easy to diagnose, partly because it’s rare that two patients experience the exact same symptoms. Additionally, the symptoms often masquerade as other illnesses. It’s not uncommon for people to seek medical assistance for something else only to eventually learn they have lupus.

Here are some possible symptoms of lupus:

  • A butterfly-shaped rash that appears on both cheeks and across the bridge of the nose is highly suggestive of lupus. About 30 percent of patients with lupus get this rash, researchers say.
  • You have a fever that just won’t go away. Fever can be a sign of inflammation, and some patients may be feverish during a lupus flareup. While having a fever isn’t unique to lupus, if you have a fever that you just can’t shake or it keeps returning, it’s best to see a doctor—especially if you’ve noticed any of the other signs of the disease.
  • You get rashes or sores on your skin after going outside. Breakouts typically occur on sun-exposed areas of the body, including the face, neckline, and arms. UV light exposure can also set off lupus symptoms or trigger a flare-up of the disease.
  • Your joints are sore or stiff. Sometimes lupus is mistaken for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) because both diseases can cause joint pain and stiffness, often in the hands, wrists, and ankles. Joints symptoms are the main feature of RA but one of many, many signs of lupus.
  • You have swelling. Swollen lymph nodes? Puffiness around your eyes? These can be a sign of lupus, too.
  • You’re losing your hair. Hair loss with lupus can be patchy, leaving little bald spots on your head. Or, it can be diffuse, causing thinning all over the scalp. Sometimes a rash develops in a balding area.
  • Your finger or toes go numb. As many as a third of people with lupus experience Raynaud’s, a syndrome that affects the blood vessels, the National Resource Center on Lupus says. When you have Raynaud’s, the vessels that supply blood to your skin narrow, limiting blood circulation, especially when you’re cold or under stress. You may have Raynaud’s if your fingers or toes (or both) go numb and turn blue or white.
  • You’re always tired. Profound fatigue is a common complaint of people with lupus. It is not the kind of exhaustion you get after exercising or playing a sport. It’s this “hit-a-wall, can’t-function kind of fatigue.” Fatigue isn’t specific to lupus but may provide another clue if someone has other lupus symptoms.
  • Your chest hurts. If it hurts to cough or breathe deeply, it could be pleurisy—inflammation of the lining of the lungs. It’s a common symptom of lupus.
  • You have mouth sores. Ulcers, like canker sores, on the roof of the mouth or tongue or even the nose, can last a few days to a month or more, according to the American College of Rheumatology.
  • Red dots appear on your skin. Lupus can attack your platelets, blood cells that help your body form clots to stop bleeding. And when you have low levels of platelets, you can develop tiny red dots called petechiae.
  • Your head hurts, and you can’t think straight. Lupus can attack the brain and nervous system. Up to 50% of people with lupus report problems with memory, concentration, and other cognitive issues dubbed “lupus fog.”

While there’s no cure for lupus, it can be managed with a combination of medications and lifestyle changes.

If you feel sick (or are experiencing the symptoms described above) and it’s not an emergency, please call us at Prosperity Internal Medicine at 703-876-9300 for an appointment. Our group uses the latest advances in medicine, offering our patients access to innovative health management technologies, proactive team-based care, and an evidenced-based, patient-centered approach.