Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because it has wide-ranging symptoms that may be similar to those of other conditions. Early signs in females include fatigue, hair loss, joint pain, and swelling.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease. It is more common in females than in males, with 9 out of 10 cases occurring in females.

Lupus can cause mild or severe symptoms in different parts of the body.

It can be challenging to diagnose because the symptoms may mimic those of other conditions. However, early diagnosis is important to help prevent complications.

This article examines early signs of lupus in females. In addition, it answers some frequently asked questions.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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According to the Office on Women’s Health, females with lupus may feel tired or exhausted even after getting enough sleep. Fatigue may be prolonged or extreme.

Up to 90% of people with lupus report experiencing fatigue. They also state that fatigue is the most bothersome symptom they experience. It is possible that taking supplements, such as vitamin D, may help manage fatigue symptoms. Getting regular physical activity and following a personalized lupus treatment plan may also help.

A person can speak with a healthcare professional about ways to manage fatigue.

Hair loss, including hair thinning and the development of bald patches, is common in lupus, and females may experience this. Some medications or infections may also cause hair loss.

According to some studies cited in a 2021 review, up to 85% of people with lupus experience hair loss. Topical treatments, medications, and lifestyle changes, such as avoiding sun exposure, may help lessen hair loss for some.

A person can speak with a healthcare professional about the most effective ways to manage hair loss based on their unique circumstances.

Learn more about hair loss from lupus.

People with lupus may experience a fever. Unexplained fever may be an early symptom of lupus.

A fever occurs when a person’s body temperature exceeds 100°F (38°C).

Fever in lupus is often due to either inflammation or an infection. Medications for lupus can help manage or prevent fever.

If a person experiences an unexplained and recurring fever, they should speak with a healthcare professional.

The Lupus Foundation of America explains that lupus can cause inflammation that affects the lungs and pulmonary system.

People may experience pleuritis or pneumonitis. Pleuritis, or pleurisy, is inflammation of the lining that covers the outside of the lungs. Pneumonitis is inflammation of the lung tissue.

If a person has symptoms such as shortness of breath, stabbing pains in the chest, or coughing, they should seek medical advice, especially if they also have a fever.

A female with lupus may notice a rash or lesion on the face or body as an early sign.

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases explains that round, scaly rashes may appear anywhere on the body. A person may also develop a butterfly rash across the nose and cheeks.

Cutaneous lupus erythematosus is a type of lupus that affects only the skin, without other symptoms. If someone has a mild case of acute cutaneous lupus, they may have a rash that looks as if they are blushing.

Read more about lupus rash.

People with lupus may develop leg swelling and arthritis, which causes joint pain, swelling, and stiffness in the morning.

Arthritis is the most common symptom of lupus. However, it is rare for a person to experience arthritis as their only manifestation of the condition.

Arthritis can result from the inflammation that lupus causes. If a person does not receive treatment for a long time, this inflammation can lead to joint damage.

A person who is experiencing pain and swelling in their joints should speak with a healthcare professional, especially if they also have other symptoms, such as rash and fatigue.

Learn more about lupus and arthritis.

According to a 2022 research review, 40–60% of people with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) have gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms. The most prevalent symptoms are nausea, abdominal pain, and vomiting.

SLE is the most common type of lupus and is generally the condition people are referring to when they use the term “lupus.”

SLE can affect any part of the GI tract, including the mouth, liver, and pancreas.

It can also cause sores to form in the mouth. These sores usually occur on the roof of the mouth and are typically painless.

Read more about lupus and mouth ulcers.

Females may experience dry eyes, eye inflammation, or a rash on the eyelids.

Around 30% of people with lupus show signs of dry eye or keratoconjunctivitis sicca. Symptoms may include grittiness, irritation, discomfort, and redness.

Eye drops, such as artificial tears, may help a person manage dry eye symptoms.

Learn more about lupus and dry eyes.

Research suggests that thyroid diseases are more common in people with lupus than in the larger population.

The most common type of thyroid disease in people with lupus is hypothyroidism. This condition occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones.

Thyroid cancer may also be more prevalent in people with SLE than in people without SLE.

It is easy to confuse lupus and thyroid diseases since many of the features of each are nonspecific. These include weight changes, fatigue, dry hair, and skin issues.

The following are some questions people frequently ask about lupus.

What does lupus do to women?

According to research, females with lupus may feel tired and fatigued. They can also experience hair loss, shortness of breath, fever, skin rashes, and painful, swollen joints.

What does undiagnosed lupus look like?

Research suggests that healthcare professionals may mistake lupus for the following conditions:

  • skin disorders
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • chronic fatigue
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • fibromyalgia

How long can you have lupus without knowing?

Because lupus symptoms vary and sometimes mimic those of other conditions, a person may be unaware that they have lupus. Some studies indicate that people can have lupus for months or even years before receiving a diagnosis.

Is it MS or lupus?

While MS and lupus share some common signs like fatigue and weakness, they also have distinctly different symptoms. MS can cause vision problems, dizziness, and issues with numbness and motor control. Lupus can cause rashes, hair loss, painful joints and unexplained fever.

Early signs of lupus that females may experience include fatigue, joint pain, and skin rashes.

Lupus symptoms can be similar to those of other conditions, such as chronic fatigue, skin disorders, and rheumatoid arthritis. This means lupus can often be difficult to diagnose.

Someone who is experiencing symptoms they are concerned about should contact a healthcare professional, as diagnosing and treating lupus early can help prevent potential complications.