Lupus is an illness that mimics other seemingly unrelated diseases, making it one of the most difficult illnesses to diagnose. An autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks healthy organs, lupus can present itself as chronic pain, but can lead to much more serious issues like cardiovascular disease, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Knowing the common symptoms of this chronic illness can help you and your doctor diagnose and treat lupus before it causes serious and lasting damage to your body.
Feeling fatigued. Constant exhaustion or a general feeling of being “run-down” is one of the most common underlying symptoms of lupus. Often mistaken for lack of sleep, this chronic fatigue is actually due to your body’s immune system constantly being active. A related side effect of an active immune system is fever, so check your temperature regularly.
Swollen joints. Arthritis-like symptoms often accompany lupus. The body’s immune system attacks healthy tissues surrounding joints and can wear them down over time, leading to osteoarthritis if left untreated. Catching lupus early is the best way to prevent this from happening.
Chest pain. Lupus can result in the immune system attacking the lungs or heart, causing pain and shortness of breath. Irritation in and around these organs can mimic heart attack and pneumonia symptoms and should be taken seriously. Go to the emergency room immediately if you experience these symptoms.
Kidney problems. Just as it does with the lungs and heart, lupus also causes the immune system to attack the kidneys, but this may not cause discernible pain to someone with lupus. Instead, dark urine and swelling in the lower body, due to the kidneys’ inability to properly expel waste (also called edema), can be signs that lupus is to blame.
Vasculitis. In addition to attacking organs, lupus can target a patient’s larger body systems. Attacking the blood vessels and veins that make up the circulatory system can result in vasculitis, an inflammation of the vessels, making it hard for the body to circulate blood. This is also an underlying cause of fatigue due to lack of oxygen supplied to the body.
Central nervous system problems. The nervous system can also become a victim of lupus. Headaches, dizziness and other neurological symptoms, when experienced with any of the above symptoms, can be a major indicator of the disease. Attacks can cause migraines, dizziness, hallucinations and phantom pains, and even depression or stroke can be side effects of this chronic illness.
Despite having a laundry list of possible symptoms, lupus is manageable. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that people with lupus seek routine health care, rather than waiting until symptoms get bad. Keeping lupus at bay can improve your quality of life, as well as help prevent major complications and reduce the risk of more serious diseases like hardening of the arteries and stroke. Start a dialogue with your doctor if you suspect you have lupus, so you can put together a well-rounded treatment program.