Multiple sclerosis and lupus both involve the immune system, and they may cause similar symptoms at times. However, they are separate conditions with distinct characteristics.
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 is an autoimmune condition. It 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.
It is possible to have both MS and lupus, though the chances are slim.
In this article, learn more about the differences between MS and lupus, their symptoms, and the diagnostic process for each.
The symptoms of MS and lupus tend to flare up and go away.
The symptoms that mark these flare-ups can vary and may get worse over time.
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:
- unexplained numbness, sometimes in the limbs
- vision problems, such as blurred or double vision
- trouble balancing
- weakness in the limbs
Lupus is an autoimmune condition that can cause inflammation in many areas of the body, including the nervous system, but this system is not always involved. 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:
The following symptoms are more common when lupus is affecting the nervous system and less common in people with MS:
The two conditions share some symptoms, such as fatigue. People with these conditions can also experience similar aches and pains.
There is no standard diagnostic test for lupus or MS.
To diagnose either condition, a doctor may have to eliminate other possible causes of the symptoms.
For MS, a doctor may use an MRI scan to check for damage to the brain and spinal cord.
If the results are still unclear, the doctor 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.
Lupus can be challenging to diagnose, as the symptoms are similar to those of many other conditions.
If a doctor suspects that a person has lupus, they may first look for signs of inflammation and swelling.
Many people develop a 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 tests, such as the antinuclear antibody test, to look for other markers of lupus. They may also refer the person to a rheumatologist or another specialist.
If symptoms suggest that lupus is affecting 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 it ensures that a person receives the correct treatment.
Treatment for both MS and lupus involves managing symptoms, increasing a person's quality of life, and preventing the condition from getting worse.
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 can reduce inflammation related to MS and lupus and prevent the diseases from getting worse. In addition, many medications can relieve the symptoms of both conditions.
It may help to supplement medical treatment with lifestyle changes, including:
- reducing stress, through meditation or breathing exercises, for example
- eating a healthful, nutritious diet
- getting plenty of rest and relaxation
- trying low-impact exercises, such as swimming or yoga
MS and lupus are both 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 is not life-threatening, but it can increase the risk of developing other health issues. Complications can also arise from treatment.
As the National Multiple Sclerosis Society state, these risks and complications may reduce the life expectancy of a person with MS by about 7 years, compared to the general population. The National Institute for Neurological Diseases and Stroke say that most people can expect a normal lifespan with MS.
Most of the risks are manageable, and it is essential to work closely with a doctor to ensure that a person is getting the best treatment.
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, up to 80–90 percent of people with lupus have regular lifespans.
In rare cases, however, lupus can be life-threatening. A severe flare-up 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.
It is possible to have lupus and MS. A 2018 review considered several case reports of people who had both conditions. The researchers noted that this is a rare occurrence.
In some cases of lupus, the body attacks the nervous system. This can create symptoms similar to those of MS, and it may lead to a misdiagnosis.
While there are 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 of the symptoms described above, they should speak with a doctor about getting a thorough diagnosis.
Anyone who feels they have received an incorrect diagnosis should communicate this to the doctor and have their symptoms reevaluated.