Lupus is characterized by the production of antibodies to components of the cell nucleus.
People with lupus may experience:2,8
A butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks and nose can be a sign of Lupus. Photo credit: Doktorinternet
- Pain or swelling in joints
- Skin rashes
- Chest pain upon deep breathing
- Unusual hair loss
- Pale or purple fingers or toes from cold or stress (Raynaud's phenomenon)
- Swelling (edema) in a leg or around the eyes
- Swollen glands.
Lupus is a prototypical autoimmune disease with a wide range of clinical manifestations such as:2,10
An example of DLE - red raised rashes can appear on the face, scalp or body.
- Oral ulcers
- Kidney problems
- Blood cell abnormalities
Brain involvement is a rare problem in people with lupus. When present, it may cause confusion, depression, seizures and, on particularly rare occasions, strokes.13
The following systems in the body can also be affected by lupus:10
- Kidneys: inflammation of the kidneys (nephritis) can impair their ability to get rid of waste products and other toxins from the body effectively
- Lungs: some people with lupus develop pleuritis, an inflammation of the lining of the chest cavity that causes chest pain, particularly with breathing. Patients with lupus may also get pneumonia
- Central nervous system: in some patients, lupus affects the brain or central nervous system. This can cause headaches, dizziness, depression, memory disturbances, vision problems, seizures, stroke or changes in behavior
- Blood vessels: blood vessels may become inflamed (vasculitis), affecting the way blood circulates through the body
- Blood: people with lupus may develop anemia, leukopenia (a decreased number of white blood cells) or thrombocytopenia (a decrease in the number of platelets in the blood, which assist in clotting)
- Heart: in some people with lupus, inflammation can occur in the heart itself (myocarditis and endocarditis) or the membrane that surrounds it (pericarditis), causing chest pain or other symptoms. Endocarditis can damage the heart valves, causing the valve surface to thicken and develop growths which can lead to heart murmurs.
Having lupus also increases your risk of:22
- Infection: people with lupus are more vulnerable to infection because both the disease and its treatments weaken the immune system. Infections that most commonly affect people with lupus include urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, yeast infections, salmonella, herpes and shingles
- Bone tissue death (avascular necrosis): this occurs when the blood supply to a bone diminishes, often leading to tiny breaks in the bone and eventually to the bone's collapse. The hip joint is most commonly affected
- Pregnancy complications: women with lupus have an increased risk of miscarriage. Lupus increases the risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy (preeclampsia) and preterm birth. To reduce the risk of these complications, doctors often recommend delaying pregnancy until your disease has been under control for at least six months.
On the next page we look at how lupus is diagnosed and classified.