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Complications of Lupus - Topic Overview

Blood-related problems

Blood-related problems are common in people who have lupus, but they do not always cause detectable symptoms. These problems, which in a few cases are severe and even life-threatening, include:

  • Changes in red blood cells, which carry oxygen; white blood cells, which fight infection; and platelets, which help the blood clot.
  • Anemia caused by the destruction of red blood cells (hemolytic anemia), low white blood cell count (leukopenia), or low platelet count (thrombocytopenia). Anemia can be caused by both lupus and the medicines used to treat it.
  • Changes in organs related to circulation, such as the spleen or lymph nodes.
  • Production of antibodies that attack certain blood-clotting factors, causing the blood to clot easily. These antibodies are produced by about 1 out of 3 people who have lupus.1 They can cause a condition, called antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, which can lead to mild or severe blood-clotting complications.

Nervous system problems

Neurological (nervous system) problems associated with lupus include:

  • Mild memory loss, trouble concentrating, and errors in insight and judgment.
  • Headaches, which are common but are usually related to stress and tension. Migraine headaches occur in many people who have lupus.
  • Nervous system problems that cause vision disturbance, dizziness, muscle weakness in the face, arms, or legs, or loss of temperature or pain sensation in the feet, hands, arms, or legs (cranial or peripheral neuropathy).
  • Seizures. They may be caused by problems with blood pressure, infections, or inflammation in blood vessels in the brain.
  • Strokes, ranging from mild to severe.

Mental health problems

The physical and emotional stress of coping with a chronic illness can make it difficult to maintain good mental health.

  • Many people with lupus become anxious, depressed, or both.
  • Psychosis, a mental-behavioral disorder in which a person may have delusions (firmly held but false beliefs) or hallucinations (false perceptions) or both, is seen in some people who have lupus. It can be caused by the disease or by medicines such as tranquilizers, corticosteroids, or narcotic pain relievers.
  • Manic behavior, including unusually high levels of energy and activity, difficulty sleeping, and irritability, can occur as a result of corticosteroid treatment for lupus. It is usually not serious and goes away when the medicine is discontinued.
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