Lupus Symptoms That Should Never Be Ignored

World Lupus Day: Lupus Symptoms That Should Never Be Ignored

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), also called lupus, is a chronic autoimmune condition that can impact many body organs. Lupus frequently strikes people between 15-45 years. Compared to inhabitants of European heritage, African, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American descent are disproportionately affected by autoimmune Lupus.

More women are affected by lupus than men,  females are nine times more likely to be infected with Lupus.    

Lupus affects different organs, which include joints, kidneys, heart, skin, lungs, blood cells, and the brain. Kidney degradation, known as lupus nephritis, occurs in approximately 50% of people with Lupus. The disease’s chronic nature and potential organ damage can lead to physical limitations, emotional distress, fatigue, and decreased overall well-being. While advances in treatment have improved outcomes, Lupus can still be a life-threatening condition, particularly when major organs are affected.

The five-year survival rate for individuals with Lupus is approximately 95%, and the ten-year survival rate is around 90%.

As the World observes, World Lupus Day lets us understand this health blog more about autoimmune diseases, with a focus on Lupus, how common it is in men and women, and how hereditary and ethnicity affect Lupus. We discuss Lupus and life expectancy, its symptoms which medical conditions are confused with Lupus, lupus diagnosis, and understand better how teleconsultation helps treat Lupus.

World Lupus Day

Globally World Lupus Day is observed on the 10th of May every year. It is an international awareness day dedicated to raising awareness about lupus, educating the public, and supporting individuals living with it.

The observance of World Lupus Day aims to promote early diagnosis and improve the overall quality of life for people with the disease. It also serves as a reminder of the ongoing need for research and advancements in lupus treatment and care. Do you know more about autoimmune diseases? Lupus is an autoimmune disease; let’s know more about this type of disease.

What are Autoimmune Diseases?

Over 80 types of autoimmune diseases are known to humankind, which can affect any part of the body.

An autoimmune disease is when the immune system, responsible for protecting the body from harmful substances, mistakenly attacks its healthy cells, tissues, and organs. Some common autoimmune diseases include multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, and celiac disease. Although the true cause of autoimmune illnesses is not entirely understood, genetic, environmental, and hormonal variables may play a dominant role.

Some genetic factors can make individuals more susceptible to developing autoimmune diseases, and specific environmental triggers, such as infections, toxins, or drugs, may trigger the disease onset.

Autoimmune diseases can vary widely in their symptoms and severity. Common symptoms include fatigue, joint and muscle pain, inflammation, skin rashes, gastrointestinal problems, fever, and general malaise. Diagnosing autoimmune diseases can be challenging due to the overlap of symptoms with other conditions and the absence of specific diagnostic tests. Lifestyle changes, including stress management, regular exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient rest, can contribute to managing symptoms and improving overall well-being for individuals with autoimmune diseases. Healthcare professionals consider a combination of medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests (including blood tests and antibody screening) to diagnose an autoimmune disease.

Is Lupus an Autoimmune Disease?

Lupus, specifically systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is an autoimmune disease. In Lupus, the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s healthy tissues and organs, leading to inflammation and damage in various body parts.

Systemic lupus erythematosus is defined when the immune system primarily targets connective tissues. This can result in inflammation and damage to the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, brain, blood cells, and other organs. Do you know how common Lupus is among men and women? Let’s find out.

How common is Lupus in men and women?

Lupus is more commonly diagnosed in women than in men. While men and women can develop lupus, women of childbearing age (15-44 years) are at the highest risk. The female-to-male ratio for lupus is estimated to be around 9:1, meaning that women are approximately nine times more likely to be diagnosed with lupus than men.

The reasons for this gender disparity in lupus prevalence are not fully understood. Hormonal factors, including estrogen, are believed to play a role. Hormonal changes, like during pregnancy or certain menstrual cycle stages, are the reasons behind the gender disparity.

How does lupus affect men?

While lupus is less common in men, it can still affect them, and when it does, it may sometimes have a more severe course. Men with lupus may experience similar symptoms and complications as women, including joint pain, skin rashes, and kidney and organ damage. However, lupus may sometimes be overlooked or misdiagnosed due to the lower overall prevalence in men. Here are some ways in which lupus can affect men:

  1. Men with lupus may experience symptoms similar to women, including fatigue, joint pain and swelling, skin rashes (like a butterfly-shaped rash on the face), fever, chest pain, hair loss, mouth ulcers, and sensitivity to sunlight. However, the specific symptoms and their severity can vary among individuals.
  2. Lupus can affect various organs and systems in the body, regardless of gender. This includes the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, brain, and blood cells. Kidney involvement (lupus nephritis) is a more common and severe complication of lupus and can affect both men and women.
  3. Some studies suggest men may experience more severe organ involvement and complications than women. For example, men with lupus are more likely to develop kidney disease and cardiovascular complications.
  4. Lupus can be underdiagnosed in men due to its lower prevalence in this group. Symptoms may be attributed to other conditions, leading to delayed diagnosis and treatment. Men may also be less likely to seek medical attention for lupus symptoms.

It’s important to remember that while lupus is less common in men, it can still significantly impact their health and quality of life. Timely diagnosis, proper management, and ongoing medical care are crucial for men with lupus to minimize complications and maintain their well-being.

How does lupus affect women?

Lupus can significantly impact women due to its higher prevalence in this group. Here are some ways in which lupus can affect women:

  1. Women with lupus can experience various symptoms that vary in type and severity. Common symptoms include fatigue, joint pain, swelling, skin rashes, fever, hair loss, mouth ulcers, sensitivity to sunlight, and chest pain.
  2. Hormonal factors, particularly estrogen, can influence the onset and course of lupus in women. Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or menopause can impact lupus symptoms. Some women may experience worsened symptoms during certain phases, while others may notice improvements. Pregnancy in women with lupus requires careful management due to potential risks to the mother and the baby.
  3. Lupus can affect reproductive health in women. It may contribute to fertility issues, menstrual irregularities, and an increased risk of complications during pregnancy, such as preeclampsia or preterm birth.
  4. Lupus can affect different organs in the body, including the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, brain, and blood cells. Regular monitoring of organ function and appropriate treatment are crucial to prevent long-term damage.
  5. Living with lupus can have emotional and psychological effects on women. Coping with the disease’s physical symptoms, chronic nature, and potential lifestyle changes can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression. Seeking support from healthcare professionals, joining support groups, and having a strong support system can be beneficial.

Is Lupus Hereditary?

Evidence suggests that lupus has a genetic component, making it potentially hereditary. Individuals with a family history of lupus are at a higher risk of developing the disease than those without a family history.  

However, these genetic variations alone are insufficient to cause lupus, as environmental triggers and other factors also play a role.

How does ethnicity affect Lupus risk?

Lupus is more prevalent in certain ethnic groups, mainly African, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American descent than in individuals of European descent, where it attacks the kidneys. African-American and Hispanic women, in particular, have been found to have a higher risk of developing lupus-related complications and organ damage.

Environmental factors like exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, cultural practices, geographic locations, certain infections, medications, and hormonal influences are dominant factors in the development of lupus. It’s important to note that while ethnicity can affect the risk of developing lupus, it does not solely determine an individual’s susceptibility to the disease.

Lupus and Life expectancy

The prognosis and life expectancy for individuals with lupus have significantly improved over the years due to advancements in medical treatments and better management strategies. However, the impact of lupus on life expectancy can still vary depending on several factors, which include:

  1. Disease severity: Some people may experience mild symptoms, while others may have more severe organ damage, particularly involving the kidneys, heart, or central nervous system, and complications significantly impacting life expectancy.
  2. Treatment and management: Availability and accessibility of proper medical treatment and effective lupus management can determine disease progression. Regular monitoring, lifestyle modifications, and self-care practices are crucial in managing the disease and improving outcomes.
  3. Coexisting health conditions: People with lupus may have an increased risk of developing other health conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases, infections, and kidney problems. These comorbidities can impact overall health and potentially affect life expectancy.
  4. Adherence to treatment and follow-up: Consistent adherence to prescribed medications, regular medical check-ups, and ongoing care is essential for effectively managing lupus and minimizing complications. Compliance with treatment plans and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are crucial to improving life expectancy.

It is important to note that while lupus can be a chronic condition requiring ongoing management, many individuals lead fulfilling and productive lives. However, individuals with lupus must seek regular appointments to manage the disease and address any specific concerns or risks they may have. Each person’s situation is unique, and it’s important to have personalized medical advice based on individual factors and medical history.

Lupus Symptoms That Should Never Be Ignored

While lupus symptoms can vary widely from person to person, some symptoms should never be ignored, as they may indicate a severe complication or flare-up of the disease. If you have lupus and experience any of the following symptoms, seek immediate medical attention:

  1. Severe fatigue or weakness: Fatigue is a common symptom of lupus. However, if it becomes extreme and debilitating, it may indicate an active flare-up or a complication such as anemia or kidney involvement.
  2. Unexplained fever: Persistent or recurrent fever may indicate infection, inflammation, or an autoimmune response. Fever may indicate an active disease flare or infection in lupus, so it should not be ignored.
  3. Chest pain or difficulty breathing: Chest pain, tightness, and shortness of breath may be a symptom of inflammation or involvement of the heart or lungs. It could be due to pleurisy (inflammation of the lining around the lungs), pericarditis (inflammation of the lining around the heart), or other cardiovascular complications.
  4. A butterfly-shaped rash on the face: A characteristic rash across the cheeks and bridge of the nose, called a butterfly rash, is a common lupus symptom. If the rash worsens or becomes more prominent, it may indicate an active flare or increased disease activity.
  5. Joint pain and swelling: Joint pain and swelling are common lupus symptoms. However, if these symptoms worsen, affect multiple joints, or are associated with redness and warmth, it may indicate inflammation or joint damage requiring medical attention.
  6. Kidney problems: Lupus can affect the kidneys, leading to lupus nephritis, which can cause symptoms such as increased protein in the urine, blood in the urine, or swelling in the legs and feet. If you notice any changes in urination or experience unexplained swelling, it is important to consult a healthcare professional.
  7. Neurological symptoms: Lupus can affect the nervous system, leading to symptoms such as seizures, severe headaches, confusion, memory problems, or vision changes. These symptoms should never be ignored, as they may indicate inflammation or damage to the brain or other parts of the nervous system.

It’s important to remember that these symptoms may also be associated with conditions other than lupus. However, given the potential seriousness of complications and disease flares in lupus, it is always best to consult a healthcare professional if you experience any concerning or persistent symptoms. They can evaluate your situation, provide appropriate medical advice, and recommend necessary diagnostic tests or treatment adjustments.

Which Medical Conditions are Confused with Lupus

Like many other autoimmune diseases, Lupus can have symptoms that overlap with other medical conditions. Here are some medical conditions that can be confused with Lupus:

  • Sjögren’s syndrome: Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder characterized by dry eyes and mouth. It can occur alongside Lupus, and the two conditions have overlapping symptoms. However, Sjögren’s syndrome primarily affects the exocrine glands, while Lupus can affect multiple organs and systems beyond the glands.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS): Multiple sclerosis is a neurological condition characterized by the immune system mistakenly attacking the protective covering of nerve fibers. Some neurological symptoms of Lupus, such as cognitive difficulties and vision changes, can resemble MS. However, these symptoms are usually associated with systemic inflammation and can coexist with other organ manifestations in Lupus.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS): Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complex disorder with severe fatigue. Fatigue is a common symptom of Lupus as well. However, in Lupus, fatigue is usually accompanied by other symptoms and signs of active disease, whereas CFS is defined by persistent fatigue alone.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): Rheumatoid arthritis is another autoimmune disease primarily affecting the joints. It can cause joint pain, stiffness, and swelling, common lupus symptoms. However, RA typically affects the small joints symmetrically, while Lupus can involve larger joints and has a more variable pattern of joint involvement.
  • Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that can cause widespread muscle pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbances. These symptoms can also be present in Lupus. However, fibromyalgia does not cause the immune system to attack healthy tissues and organs like Lupus.

It’s important to note that these conditions may coexist with Lupus, making diagnosis and management more complex. A thorough evaluation by a healthcare professional, including a detailed medical history, physical examination, and appropriate diagnostic tests, is crucial to differentiate Lupus from other conditions and establish an accurate diagnosis; we suggest you download the Gigadocs app and consult Rheumatologists (for joint paints), Dermatologists (for treating rashes like a butterfly rash), Nephrologist (for kidney infections), Cardiologists (for inflammation of the heart). Refer to the bottom of this blog and seek the download instructions.

Lupus Diagnosis

Diagnosing lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE) can be challenging because it is a complex disease with a wide range of symptoms that can mimic other conditions. There is no single test that can definitively diagnose lupus. Instead, the diagnosis is based on clinical criteria, symptoms, and diagnostic tests. Here are the key steps involved in diagnosing lupus:

  1. Diagnostic tests: Various blood tests can help support the diagnosis of lupus. These tests may include:
    • Complete blood count (CBC): CBC can detect anemia, low platelet count, and changes in white blood cell count.
    • Antinuclear antibody (ANA) test: The presence of ANA, a type of antibody, is often seen in lupus. However, a positive ANA test alone cannot diagnose lupus, as it can indicate other autoimmune and non-autoimmune conditions.
    • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein (CRP): These tests measure inflammation levels in the body.
  2. Medical history and physical examination: Your healthcare provider will begin by taking a detailed medical history and conducting a physical exam. They will ask about your symptoms, duration, frequency, and family history of autoimmune diseases. The physical examination may involve checking for characteristic lupus symptoms such as rashes, joint swelling, and signs of organ involvement.
  3. Diagnostic criteria: The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) has established classification criteria for lupus. These criteria include a combination of clinical and laboratory findings. A person must meet at least four of the 11 measures to be classified as having lupus. These criteria include characteristic skin rashes, joint inflammation, kidney involvement, blood disorders, and specific antibodies.

How teleconsultation helps in Treating Lupus

Teleconsultation, also known as telemedicine or telehealth, can be beneficial in treating Lupus in several ways:

  1. Accessibility: Teleconsultation offers accessibility to healthcare services, especially for individuals with limited mobility or who live in remote areas. People with Lupus often experience fatigue, joint pain, and other symptoms that can make traveling to healthcare facilities difficult. Teleconsultation lets a lupus patient connect with healthcare professionals from the comfort of their own home.
  2. Monitoring and follow-up: Teleconsultation facilitates regular monitoring and follow-up care for Lupus patients. Healthcare providers can remotely assess the patient’s progress, review symptoms, and evaluate diagnostic test results. This ongoing monitoring helps track disease activity and adjust treatment plans as needed.
  3. Emotional support: Living with a chronic illness like Lupus can be emotionally challenging. Teleconsultation provides a platform for patients to conveniently discuss their concerns, fears, and emotional well-being with healthcare professionals. Mental health support and counseling can be integrated into teleconsultation services, ensuring holistic care for Lupus patients.
  4. Collaboration and multidisciplinary care: Teleconsultation enables collaboration among healthcare professionals from different specialties in Lupus management. Rheumatologists, dermatologists, nephrologists, and other specialists can virtually connect, review patient cases, and provide comprehensive care plans. This multidisciplinary approach enhances the quality of care for Lupus patients.

Download the Gigadocs app for a comprehensive evaluation and diagnostic tests for Lupus. With Gigadocs, you can avail of teleconsultation at a time convenient to you with the best Rheumatologists, dermatologists, nephrologists, and other specialists.

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