9 Lupus Symptoms In Women That Should Never Be Ignored
When Selena Gomez shared that she was battling lupus in 2015, it shed light on a disease that affects a number of people — most of them women, who typically develop it during the childbearing years (between 15 and 44).
This is especially devastating because lupus is a lifelong disease. “There is extended remission where, for all intents and purposes, we might think we’ve cured the disease in some individuals, but there is no cure,” says lupus expert Dr Jill Buyon.
What Causes Lupus?
While scientists aren’t sure what causes lupus (in some cases, it’s genetic, says Buyon, but not all), there are effective treatments for the disease.
The symptoms of lupus vary wildly — from unexplained weight loss to rashes. As a result, it’s rare for patients to show up at the doctor’s office with symptoms that clearly point to the disease. (It’s more of a process-of-elimination diagnosis.)
Still, it doesn’t hurt to know which symptoms could be red flags:
A Butterfly-Shaped Rash on Your Face
This is one of the most common manifestations of lupus, says Buyon.
This can also show up as other photosensitive rashes (i.e. you get them when you go out in the sun), redness on many parts of the body, or even hair loss and skin lesions on the scalp.
“Joint pain occurs in about 70 percent of patients and is often one of the first manifestations of lupus,” says Buyon. But it’s not quite the same as rheumatoid arthritis. “While the wrists and hands are similarly affected, the disease may not be symmetrical,” she explains. “The swelling is generally not as large either, and the hips, back and neck are less affected.”
Lupus doesn’t erode the actual bones, as in untreated rheumatoid arthritis, so while it’s functionally disabling, it may not cause the same damage.
READ MORE: Everything You Need To Know About Lupus
Shortness of Breath Or Chest Pain
“There are manifestations of lupus where the disease attacks the lining of the lungs, causing fluid to leak out and surround the lungs,” says Buyon. This can make it feel painful to breathe. “In some cases, that same process can occur around the lining of the heart, which is called pericarditis,” she adds.
The is one of the main complications of lupus — so much so that doctors often divide lupus cases into those with kidney involvement and those without kidney involvement, says Buyon. “This is a major manifestation where antibodies might attack the kidneys, which can range from imminently treatable to failing all treatments and needing dialysis and transplant,” she says. (Selena Gomez famously underwent a kidney transplant due to her lupus.)
Brain issues are less common, but they do occur. “Some people develop seizures, confusion, headaches, or less specific neurological manifestations,” says Buyon. “The central nervous system can definitely be affected with lupus, so it’s another thing to be aware of.”
“There are a lot of blood elements themselves that can be affected by lupus,” says Buyon, considering that lupus is a disorder that directly affects your immune system, which is made up of blood cells. “Some people manifest with a very low white blood cell count (those are the cells that protect your body), you may have a low platelet count, or you may be very, very anaemic because antibodies are attacking your blood cells.”
Being tired isn’t uncommon, and it’s not specific to lupus. But with everything going on in your immune system, it wouldn’t be shocking for fatigue to come along with other lupus symptoms, says Buyon. “If it keeps you from working, you should see a doctor,” she says.
Fever often occurs during lupus flares, and doesn’t top out past 39°C. “It’s another symptom that isn’t unique to lupus but can come along with it,” says Buyon. If your fever doesn’t go away or it keeps returning, head to your doc.
Unexplained Weight Loss
Losing weight out of nowhere can be an indicator of a number of serious diseases, including cancer. In the case of lupus, when your body’s immune system turns on itself, “it can affect your thyroid and certain hormones, which could cause you to lose weight,” says Buyon.
If you experience extraordinary weight loss, that’s not necessarily a good thing, so talk to your doctor about getting to the bottom of it.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com