Lupus: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

By Dr. Prasan Deep Rath in Internal Medicine

May 09 , 2022 | 5 min read


Lupus, also known as SLE or Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, is an autoimmune disease which means your body’s immune system attacks your healthy body cells. It is also called the ‘Disease of a thousand faces’ due to its complexity and varied clinical presentation.

The disease generally affects your joints, kidneys, skin, brain, blood cells, heart, and lungs. Though any person can get affected by the disease, it is more common in women aged 15 to 45 years. Keep reading to know more about its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment.

Symptoms of Lupus

As mentioned earlier, Lupus shows varied clinical presentations, which means not all SLE patients show similar symptoms. Moreover, there are episodes of flare-ups and remissions which means your symptoms will flare up during a certain period, and in other instances, you show no symptoms.

Some of the common symptoms of Lupus are-

  1. Fatigue- It is the most common symptom of Lupus and is caused due to multiple factors such as disease activity. Anaemia caused due to Lupus can also be one of the contributing factors.

  2. Lupus rash- Rashes are common in Lupus and last for days or weeks. Generally, you see butterfly rash on the face extending to both cheeks and the nose bridge. It is called butterfly rash due to its shape.

  3. Light sensitivity- You become sensitive to sunlight if you are suffering from Lupus; as a result, light exposure may cause rashes, fatigue, fever, or joint pain.

  4. Hair loss- Rashes result in scarring on the scalp that causes hair to fall. Hair loss is also caused due to the side effects of medications such as steroids used for treating SLE. If you see a significant hair fall, consult your doctor as he/she might change medications or suggest some self-care tips.

  5. Weight loss or weight gain- Weight loss is caused due to medications for SLE. In some patients, weight gain is seen because of prolonged inactivity due to joint pain.

  6. Fever- Normal body temperature is 98.5 degrees Fahrenheit. In SLE patients, low-grade fever that is less than 101 degrees Fahrenheit is seen. In most cases, fever is caused due to active disease. Additionally, Lupus patients are immunocompromised, so they are prone to infection. This can be yet another reason for the fever.

  7. Headache- Lupus causes headache in 70% of patients, and you do not get relief with over the counter medications. It is generally caused due to inflammation of the brain, spinal cord, and blood vessels. In some patients, headache is as severe as migraine. Also read about cervicogenic headache 

  8. Arthralgia and Myalgia- Lupus causes joint and muscle pain due to fibromyalgia, in which there is a problem in part of the central nervous system that controls pain signals. These symptoms are more intense in the morning.

You should consult a doctor if you have one or more symptoms. Now let’s talk about the causes of Lupus.

Causes of Lupus

The exact cause of Lupus is unknown. However, it is believed to be a multifactorial disease, and factors such as genetic factors, immunologic factors, endocrine factors, and environmental factors play a role in Lupus.

Prompt treatment can help manage the disease well, so your doctor might use the following diagnostic tests to confirm the condition.

Diagnosis of Lupus

Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because symptoms seen in Lupus match with many other diseases, so it can be missed. There is no direct test that confirms Lupus.

However, your doctor will diagnose Lupus in the following ways.

  1. Medical history- Your doctor will ask you a couple of questions to know if you have symptoms of Lupus.

  2. Family history- As Lupus has a genetic predisposition, your doctor will ask you if there is anyone in your family affected by Lupus.

  3. Physical examination- Your doctor will also examine your skin to check for rashes or abnormalities.

  4. ANA test - Your doctor may suggest you go for an Antinuclear antibody (ANA) test. A positive ANA test does not confirm Lupus. However, if this test is positive, your doctor will ask you to undergo a couple of more tests specifically for Lupus. 

  5. Complete Blood Count (CBC) test- Lupus patients may suffer from anaemia, so you might see changes in Red Blood Cells (RBCs), and there might be changes in White Blood Cells (WBCs) as well.

  6. Kidney and Liver Function Tests- Lupus can affect your kidneys and livers, so there can be abnormalities in these tests.

  7. Urine test- If Lupus has affected your kidneys, you will find red blood cells and protein in urine indicating kidney damage.

  8. Biopsy- Biopsy is a minor surgical procedure in which a section of tissue is taken to see signs of autoimmune disease. As your kidneys and skin can be affected, a biopsy of kidney tissue and skin can show changes caused due to Lupus.

Treatment of Lupus

Your doctor will provide you with a treatment plan depending on the symptoms. You need to understand as there are episodes of flare-ups and remission, your doctor might need to increase the dose in episodes of a flare-up of symptoms and decrease the dose during remission.

Following are some of the medications that your doctor may prescribe-

  1. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)- These are pain relievers that reduce fever and inflammation as well. Though some NSAIDs are available over the counter, some potent NSAIDs are available only by prescription.

  2. Corticosteroids- These are medications available as pills, injections, and ointments. Your symptoms will improve with steroids, but your doctor will taper the drug when your symptoms improve. The longer you take these drugs, the longer it will take to taper the medication. Stopping it suddenly can cause ill effects on your body.

  3. Immunosuppressive medications- These medications are prescribed when symptoms are severe and other drugs fail to provide relief. But they do have some side effects as they make your body prone to infections because your immune system is not working at its best.

  4. Other medications- Your doctor may suggest other drugs such as anticoagulants and BLyS-specific inhibitors to deal with the disease.

Lupus is a chronic disease. Taking timely medical consultation can help you manage its symptoms well so that they may not hinder your lifestyle. If you or your loved one is suffering from Lupus or have symptoms of Lupus, consult our top experts Now.

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