Signs and symptoms of lupus


Lupus is a mysterious disease with many minor signs and symptoms (fatigue, joint pain, hair loss, headaches, and more) that are often overlooked or misinterpreted as harbingers of another disease, leading to a misdiagnosis. But when one of the most common symptoms is accompanied by a more suspicious sign or complication, the lupus begins to disappear.

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Frequent symptoms

While symptoms can come and go and appear differently for each person, the most common symptoms of lupus include :

  • Painful joints with stiffness and swelling.
  • Exhausted
  • Unexplained rashes that can turn into ulcers or lesions and then scarring.
  • Butterfly ( zygomatic ) rash on the nose and cheeks
  • Anemia
  • Hair loss
  • Pleurisy (chest pain with deep breathing)
  • Ulcers in the mouth and nose.
  • Photosensitivity (sensitivity to the sun or light, which can cause or worsen the rash)
  • Headache
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Abnormal blood clotting
  • Raynaud's disease (fingers turn blue or white when cold)

Let's take a closer look at these symptoms and the body systems they affect.

Lupus affects everyone differently. Symptoms can be chronic or come and go.

Dermatological symptoms

If you have lupus, you may notice various types of rashes or rashes on the skin. These abnormal areas of the skin indicate what is called cutaneous or cutaneous lupus .

Chronic cutaneous ( discoid lupus ), subacute cutaneous (well-defined scaly patches that appear in sun-exposed areas but less frequently on the face), and acute cutaneous (flattened, red, sunburn-like patches on the face) are three types of cutaneous lupus.

Ulcers in the lining of the nose or mouth are another common complaint that accompanies lupus. Like other symptoms, ulcers can come and go as the disease worsens.

Cutaneous lupus symptoms. DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Kidney (kidney) symptoms

You may not have any signs of kidney problems, but some associated symptoms include weight gain, high blood pressure, and swelling of the face, feet, and / or fingers.

Cardiopulmonary (cardiopulmonary) symptoms

Cardiopulmonary symptoms can include shortness of breath and chest pain when taking deep breaths.

Musculoskeletal symptoms

Joint pain and swelling are the main symptoms of lupus, which affects more than 90 percent of people with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), usually in the connective joints such as the elbows, wrists, knees, and ankles. Joint pain with lupus also tends to occur on both sides of the body at the same time, such as both knees or both ankles.

Unlike rheumatoid arthritis , joint pain in lupus is less disabling and generally does not deform the arms or legs.

Hematological symptoms

Three blood disorders that are commonly found in people with lupus include:

  1. Anemia (low red blood cell count): This can be caused by inflammation, kidney disease, or a side effect of lupus medications.
  2. Thrombosis (excess blood clotting): This can cause clots to travel to the lungs, heart, or brain.
  3. Leukopenia (low white blood cell count) – occurs in about 50 percent of people with lupus and usually indicates that the disease is active .

Other blood disorders that can occur with lupus include:

  • Lymphopenia (low specific white blood cell count)
  • Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count)

Less common symptoms

Other less common symptoms of lupus include:

  • Dizziness
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Seizures


Complications from inflammatory lupus can affect any number of areas of your body, including the skin, heart, lungs, kidneys, blood, and brain.

Lupus can increase your risk of developing other health problems.


There are skin conditions and complications that can occur with lupus and other autoimmune diseases. This includes:

  • Hair loss
  • Calcification (calcium deposits on the skin)
  • Livedo reticularis (a red mesh pattern on the skin caused by blocked blood vessels )

Heart and lungs

There are several inflammatory diseases of the heart and lungs that can affect people with lupus. By far the most common are:

  • Inflammation of the lining of the heart (pericarditis).
  • Inflammation of the lining of the lung (pleurisy )

Less common complications include:

  • Inflammation of the heart tissue (myocarditis).
  • Inflammation of the blood vessels of the heart (coronary vasculitis).
  • Inflammation of the lung itself (pneumonitis)


Inflammation of the kidneys in people with lupus is called lupus nephritis . In some people, lupus nephritis can lead to kidney failure and is a serious, initially invisible complication that affects people with lupus.

If you are diagnosed with kidney inflammation, your doctor may prescribe medications to suppress your immune system and lower blood pressure, or recommend that you change your diet and lifestyle.


As mentioned above, lupus can cause anemia and blood clotting problems, but it can also cause inflammation of the lining of blood vessels, called vasculitis. This manifests as red bumps or spots on the pimples.


Lupus can affect your central nervous system, causing memory problems, difficulty expressing yourself, and confusion. Other possible consequences are headaches, vision problems, behavior changes, dizziness, psychosis, and even seizures or strokes.


Because lupus is an autoimmune disease, you are more susceptible to infections and have complications from both the disease and its treatment.


When part of the blood supply to the bone is cut off, that area of the bone dies and eventually collapses (avascular necrosis). This is osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones become weak and brittle and can be a complication of lupus therapy.


The risk is low, but having lupus can increase your chances of developing certain types of cancer.

The pregnancy

If you get pregnant while you have lupus, you are more likely to have a miscarriage, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and preterm labor. Managing your disease before you get pregnant helps reduce this risk.

If you have lupus, talk to your doctor before trying to get pregnant.

When to contact a healthcare provider

You should see your doctor if you think you have symptoms of lupus, such as unexplained fatigue, unexplained joint pain, and skin rashes. You should also see your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms, even if you've already been diagnosed with lupus:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Less frequent urination and / or urination less than usual
  • Blood in the urine
  • Fever above 100.5 degrees without a recent cold or flu
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Dizziness
  • Muscular fatigue
  • Swelling of the legs or feet.
  • Noticeable behavior changes such as anxiety or depression.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hair loss
  • Acne
  • New sores in the mouth or nose.
  • Any worsening of previously known symptoms.

Lupus Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide to your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

When to call 911

Whether or not you've been diagnosed with lupus, you also need to know when is the best time to call 911 or go to the emergency room. These symptoms include the following:

  • Irritating chest pain with sweating or nausea.
  • Sudden shortness of breath and shortness of breath.
    Signs of a stroke,
    Numbness, tingling, weakness, or paralysis of all or part of the body
  • Sudden changes in vision: blurred vision, double vision, etc.
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech.
  • Sudden nausea or vomiting
  • Severe sudden headache, different from previous headaches.
  • Sudden dizziness, fainting, or fainting spells

Frequently asked questions

  • Previous criteria for diagnosing lupus required the patient to have at least four of the following 11 symptoms:

    • A butterfly-shaped rash on the cheeks and nose, known as a zygomatic rash.
    • A rash with raised, red, disc-shaped patches known as a discoid rash.
    • A reaction to the sun or light that causes or worsens a rash, also known as photosensitivity.
    • Mouth ulcers
    • Joint pain and swelling in two or more joints without concomitant bone damage
    • Inflammation of the lining of the heart (pericarditis) or lungs (pleurisy), also known as serositis.
    • Kidney disease involving persistent proteins or cell casts in urine samples.
    • Neurological disorders including seizures or psychosis.
    • Blood disorders, including anemia, leukopenia, lymphopenia, or thrombopenia.
    • Immune disorders associated with positive anti-DNA or anti-SM antiphospholipid antibodies
    • Abnormal antinuclear antibody (ANA) results

  • Tired and sickly. The most common symptoms of lupus are fatigue, headaches, and joint pain. Lupus can also cause heart and lung problems, which can make tiredness worse.

  • Yes, one of the symptoms of lupus is facial swelling. This is in addition to the butterfly-shaped rash on the cheeks and nose. Lupus can cause swelling in the cheeks and around the eyes. Sun exposure can aggravate both the rash and the swelling.

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