Have you heard of lupus, but aren't really sure what it is or if you need to worry about it? About five million people worldwide are diagnosed with lupus every year, and the symptoms may be hard to pinpoint if you don't know what you're looking for.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease: normally, our immune systems produce antibodies to fight off germs and bacteria, but with an autoimmune disease like lupus, something goes wrong with your immune system, and your body can't tell the difference between harmful germs and your body's own tissues. So your body produces autoantibodies as a first line of defense that attacks and destroys healthy tissue. Dr. Kristamarie Collman, MD, explained to POPSUGAR that "lupus can affect almost any part of the body, but the signs and symptoms can vary for each individual."
Lupus is most common for women during childbearing years, ages 15 to 44, but men, children, and teenagers can also get lupus; men will usually be diagnosed between the same ages as women. Lupus is two to three times more prevalent among women of color than among white women, and currently there is no cure.
Diagnosing lupus can be challenging, like figuring out a puzzle, because there's no singular test your doctor can give you. Sometimes it can take months or even years to diagnose because lupus also has similar symptoms to other conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, blood disorders, fibromyalgia, diabetes, thyroid problems, or Lyme disease.
Dr. Collman shared this list of common symptoms of lupus:
- Feeling tired or weak (due to anemia or low blood counts)
- Painful, swollen, or stiff joints
- Low-grade fever
- Sensitivity to sunlight or fluorescent light
- Chest pain when breathing deeply, since lupus can cause inflammation in the lining surrounding the heart
- Swelling (edema) in feet, legs, hands, or around the eyes
- Butterfly-shaped rash across the nose and cheeks
- Hair loss
- Abnormal blood clotting
- Fingers turning white and/or blue when cold (Raynaud's disease)
- Mouth or nose ulcers
- Brown-colored urine
"The signs and symptoms of lupus are plentiful, so if you generally feel unwell or just 'feel off,' be sure to discuss your concerns with your doctor," Dr. Collman said. Lupus symptoms can come and go, and they can change, so share all the details you can to help your doctor make a proper diagnosis.