Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus) - Symptoms
If you have
lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE), you may
be extremely tired, have skin rashes, or have joint pain. If the disease is
more serious, you may have problems with your kidneys, heart, lungs, blood, or
Lupus symptoms depend on what body organs are
affected and how seriously they are affected.
- Fatigue: Nearly all
people with lupus have mild to extreme fatigue. Even mild cases of lupus cause
an inability to engage in daily activities and exercise. Increased fatigue is a
classic sign that a symptom flare is about to occur.
- Joint and muscle pain: Most people with lupus have joint pain
(arthritis) at some time. About 70% of people with
lupus report that joint and muscle pain was their first sign of the disease.
Joints may be red and warm, and may swell. Morning stiffness may also be felt.
Lupus arthritis often occurs on both sides of the body at the same time,
particularly in the wrists, small joints of the hands, elbows, knees, and
- Skin problems: Most people with
lupus develop skin rashes. These rashes are often an important clue to the
diagnosis. In addition to the
butterfly rash over the cheeks and bridge of the nose, other common skin symptoms
include skin sores or flaky red spots on the arms, hands, face, neck, or back;
mouth or lip sores; and a scaly, red or purple raised rash on the face, neck,
scalp, ears, arms, and chest.
- Sensitivity to light: Exposure to
ultraviolet light (such as sunlight or tanning
parlors) typically worsens the skin rash and can trigger lupus flares.
Sensitivity to light affects many of those with lupus, with fair-skinned people
with lupus tending to be more sensitive.
- Nervous system symptoms: Some people with lupus develop nervous
system problems, most commonly headaches. It is not clear whether these are from the lupus itself or whether they are related to the general stress and fatigue of having a chronic illness. More severe symptoms-such as difficulty with memory or concentration, or numbness or weakness of the arms or legs-are not common.
- Heart problems: People with
lupus may develop inflammation of the heart sac (pericarditis),
which may cause severe, sudden pain in the center of the left side of the chest
that may spread to the neck, back, shoulders, or arms.
- Lung problems: People with lupus may develop inflammation of the sac around the lungs (pleurisy), which can cause a stabbing chest pain and coughing.
- Mental health problems: People with lupus may develop problems
such as anxiety and depression. Such problems can be caused by lupus, the
medicines used to treat it, or the stress of coping with chronic
- Fever: Most people with lupus will
sometimes have a low-grade fever related to the disease. Fever is sometimes a
first sign of the disease.
- Changes in weight: Many people with lupus lose weight when their disease is active
- Hair loss: People with lupus may
experience periods of hair loss, either in patches or spread evenly over the
head. This hair loss is usually not permanent.
- Swollen glands: Many people with lupus eventually develop
lymph glands during a flare.
- Raynaud's phenomenon: Some people with lupus have Raynaud's phenomenon. It affects the small vessels that supply blood to the skin and the
soft tissues under the skin of the fingers and toes, causing them to turn white
and/or blue or red. The skin affected will feel numb, tingly, and cold to the
- Inflammation of blood vessels in the skin (cutaneous
vasculitis): Inflammation or bleeding from the blood
vessels can lead to small or large blue spots or small reddish spots on the
skin or nail beds.
- Swelling of the hands and feet: Some people with lupus have kidney problems, which can prevent
extra fluids from being removed from the body tissues. As fluid collects, the
hands and feet may swell.
Anemia is a decrease in the amount of the
oxygen-carrying substance (hemoglobin) found in red blood cells. Many people
with an ongoing disease such as lupus develop anemia because they don't have
enough red blood cells.
other conditions with symptoms similar to lupus.