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Could It Be Lupus?

Doctor wearing white coat meeting with female patient

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can affect people of all ages. The signs and symptoms can be different for different people. Learn about this disease and its signs and symptoms.

Lupus Awareness

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in different parts of the body. Its symptoms can show up in many different ways, which sometimes makes it hard to diagnose. Lupus symptoms can range from mild to life threatening, which is why early diagnosis and treatment by a rheumatologist are so important.

Are You at Risk for Lupus?

Systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE, is the most common and serious type of lupus and can affect people of all ages, including children. However, women of childbearing age—15 to 44 years—have the highest risk. SLE affects women far more than men (estimates range from 4 to 12 women for every 1 man).

African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and American Indians/Alaska Natives have higher rates of SLE than whites. African American women have the highest rate, according to recent studies supported by CDC.

Signs and Symptoms of SLE

People with SLE can have many different symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue or extreme exhaustion no matter how much they sleep.
  • Joint pain or swelling.
  • Skin rashes (in particular a butterfly-shaped face rash across the cheeks and nose).
  • Hair loss.
  • Recurring mouth sores.
  • Fevers.

Additional symptoms or conditions can include:

  • Sensitivity to the sun.
  • Arthritis.
  • Lung problems.
  • Chest pain when deep breathing.
  • Fingers or toes turning blue or white or feeling numb.
  • Heart problems.
  • Kidney problems.
  • Seizures.
  • Psychosis (disruptive thoughts and perceptions about what is or is not real).
  • Blood cell and immunological abnormalities.

People with SLE have periods of lupus symptoms called flares, followed by symptom-free periods called remissions. They may have flares often, or years apart, throughout their life. There is no cure for lupus, but getting an early diagnosis and getting treatment is critical to preventing long-term consequences and managing symptoms.

How Is SLE Diagnosed?

There is no simple test for SLE. To diagnose SLE, a doctor will take into account the patient’s symptoms, signs observed during physical exams, and the results of X-rays and lab tests. SLE may be hard to diagnose because its signs and symptoms are not specific and can look like signs and symptoms of other diseases. SLE may also be misdiagnosed, so it is important to see a doctor who specializes in rheumatology for a final diagnosis.

Other Types of Lupus among Adults

  • Cutaneous lupus (skin lupus) affects the skin in the form of a rash or lesions. This type of lupus can occur on any part of the body but usually appears where the skin is exposed to sunlight.
  • Drug-induced lupus is similar to SLE, but is caused by a reaction to some medicines instead of a problem with the immune system. Symptoms usually appear 3 to 6 months after starting a medicine and disappear once the medicine is stopped.
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