Multiple sclerosis (MS) and lupus are autoimmune conditions. They can cause similar symptoms, but they are different conditions. MS affects the nervous system, while lupus affects the skin, joints, body organs and, in some cases, the nervous system.

Symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) appear because the body attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. This damage interferes with the way the body communicates with the brain.

Lupus causes the immune system to attack different areas of the body, such as the skin, joints, and organs. In some people, lupus attacks the nervous system.

Though the chances are slim, it is possible to have both MS and lupus.

This article examines the differences between MS and lupus, their symptoms, treatment, and diagnosis.

Learn more about MS in our dedicated hub here.

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While they are distinct, lupus and MS share some symptoms and treatments.

Similar symptoms

The symptoms of MS and lupus tend to cycle between flares and remission. The symptoms that mark these flare-ups can vary and may worsen over time.

The two conditions share some symptoms, including:

  • fatigue
  • unexplained numbness
  • weakness
  • cognitive impairment, such as difficulty concentrating

Similarities in treatment

Treatment for MS and lupus involves managing symptoms, improving a person’s quality of life, and preventing the condition from worsening. A doctor can prescribe many medications to treat MS or lupus.

The right course of treatment will vary depending on the condition, the person’s symptoms, underlying causes or risks, and how far the disease has progressed. Medications that doctors may prescribe for both conditions include:

  • Corticosteroids: These powerful medications impair the body’s immune response, reducing inflammation. Corticosteroids can reduce symptoms of MS exacerbations and overall inflammation in lupus.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These drugs can reduce inflammation and pain in both conditions. Common NSAIDs include ibuprofen and naproxen.
  • Pain relievers: Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications such as paracetamol and aspirin can provide general pain relief.
  • Anticonvulsants: These medications can help to reduce tremors and muscular spasms in both conditions.

Additional remedies

It may help to supplement medical treatment with lifestyle changes, including:

  • reducing stress, such as through meditation or breathing exercises
  • eating a balanced, nutritious diet
  • getting plenty of rest and relaxation
  • trying low impact exercises, such as swimming or yoga

Chronic conditions can put a person at risk of anxiety or depression. Talking with a therapist about symptoms and how they affect mental well-being can help reduce this impact.

What natural remedies can help with MS?

While there are similarities between MS and lupus, there are key differences between the conditions.

Differences in symptoms

While MS and lupus share some symptoms, there are notable points of difference in their respective presentations.

MS symptoms

In a person with MS, the immune system attacks nerve cells, damaging their protective sheaths.

This makes it harder for the brain and body to communicate and may result in neurological symptoms, including:

Find out more about the early symptoms of MS.

Lupus symptoms

Lupus is an autoimmune condition that can cause inflammation in various areas of the body, including the nervous system. Lupus can also attack the skin, joints, and organs.

According to the Lupus Foundation of America, many scientists believe that the condition results from a combination of hormones, genetics, and environmental factors.

The most common symptoms of lupus are:

Lupus can also affect the nervous system, potentially causing:

What are the early signs of lupus?

Differences in diagnosis

There is no standard diagnostic test for lupus or MS.

A doctor may have to eliminate other possible causes of the symptoms to diagnose either condition.

Diagnosing MS

There is no specific test for MS. A doctor will ask about symptoms. They may use an MRI scan to check for damage to the brain and spinal cord.

If the results are still unclear, they may request a lumbar puncture. During a lumbar puncture, a doctor removes a small amount of the liquid in the spinal cord and tests it for MS antigens.

Learn more about diagnostic tests for MS here.

Diagnosing lupus

Doctors can find it challenging to diagnose lupus, as many of its symptoms are similar to many other conditions. An experienced doctor can diagnose lupus by integrating the person’s symptoms and physical findings with the results of various diagnostic tests.

If a doctor suspects a person has lupus, they may first look for signs of inflammation and swelling and ask about pain.

Many people develop a butterfly-shaped rash, usually on the cheeks and nose. This does not appear in every person with lupus, but it can make diagnosis easier.

After checking for these indicators, doctors use various blood tests, such as the antinuclear antibody test (ANA), to look for other markers of lupus.

The AVISE Connective Tissue Disease test is a new blood test that uses antibody measures to diagnose lupus. It may also help predict how the disease will develop and what type of damage might occur.

A positive ANA test may be useful in establishing the diagnosis of lupus in individuals with the traditional signs and symptoms. However, the ANA test is sometimes inconsistent and returns a negative result in some people.

If symptoms suggest that lupus affects the nervous system, the doctor may request an MRI of the brain and spinal cord. They may also request a lumbar puncture to look for indications of lupus in the spinal fluid.

A proper diagnosis takes time but ensures that a person receives the correct treatment.

Learn more about the symptoms of lupus with images here.

Differences in treatments

While some medications can treat the symptoms of both conditions, doctors may also prescribe more targeted therapies.

Treating MS

Disease-modifying therapies are the primary means of modifying the course of MS. These medications can slow disease progression, reduce relapses, and limit new MS activity.

Disease-modifying therapies for MS include, but are not limited to:

  • Injectable medications
  • Oral medications
  • Infused medications
    • natalizumab (Tysabri)
    • mitoxantrone (Novantrone)
    • alemtuzumab (Lemtrada)
    • ocrelizumab (Ocrevus)

Doctors may prescribe other medications to treat specific symptoms of MS.

Learn more about the medications for MS here.

Treating lupus

Medications that may specifically treat lupus symptoms include:

  • antimalarial medications (Plaquenil)
  • immunosuppressants
    • methotrexate (Rheumatrex)
    • cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan)
    • azathioprine (Imuran)
  • monoclonal antibodies

Learn more about the treatments for lupus here.

MS and lupus are difficult to predict, as their progressions do not follow set patterns. Most people with these conditions lead long lives and can manage their symptoms.

MS outlook

MS is not life threatening, but it can increase the risk of developing other health issues. Complications can also arise from treatment.

These complications may reduce the life expectancy of a person with MS by about 7 years compared to the general population. However, the National Institute for Neurological Diseases and Stroke says that most people with MS can expect to live as long as a person without MS.

Most of the risks are manageable. A person in regular contact with their healthcare team can receive suitable treatment at each stage of the disease.

Learn more about MS and life expectancy.

Lupus outlook

According to the Lupus Foundation of America, around 80–90% of people with lupus do not have a reduced life expectancy.

In rare cases, however, lupus can be life threatening. A severe flare can put a person at risk of organ failure and lead to death. Receiving regular treatment and discussing flare-ups with the doctor are the best ways to prevent complications.

Learn more about life expectancy with lupus.

It is possible to have lupus and MS. A 2018 review considered several case reports of people with both conditions. The researchers noted that this is a rare occurrence.

Sometimes, lupus can cause the body to attack the nervous system. This can create symptoms similar to those of MS, and it may lead to a misdiagnosis.

While some similarities and symptoms can overlap, MS and lupus are very different conditions.

In general, a person with MS is more likely to experience neurological symptoms, such as numbness, blurred vision, and difficulty balancing.

A person with lupus tends to have symptoms such as rashes and headaches. They may also experience cognitive or personality changes.

If a person has any symptoms described above, they should ask their doctor for a thorough diagnosis.

Anyone who feels they have received an incorrect diagnosis should talk with their doctor about reevaluating their symptoms.