What are the first symptoms of lupus?

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Detecting Silent Lupus Signs Early On

Systemic lupus erythematosus is the most common form of lupus and often appears in the form of early symptoms of fatigue and achiness before being diagnosed.

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack itself. Though there are common symptoms amongst lupus patients, symptoms do vary case by case.

The Great Imitator

Lupus symptoms often mimic flu-like symptoms, making it incredibly difficult to diagnosis. Individuals may feel tired, achy, and feverish.

These symptoms also overlap with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and thyroid problems. Due to this, taking inventory of your symptoms as they occur may help your doctor reach a faster diagnosis.

Immune System Error Alert

Understanding the severity of immune disorders is the only way to clearly establish the importance of identifying lupus symptoms as early on as possible.

A healthy immune system fights disease by releasing antibodies to combat antigens, substances that are foreign to the body. However, the immune system of someone with lupus functions improperly and instead of attacking antigens, it attacks the body’s healthy tissues and cells.

Catching Lupus Early On

Head of arthritis and immunology research at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation Dr. John Harley, conducted research that suggests that lupus infects the body in three stages.

During the second stage, autoantibodies within the blood cells are present but it isn’t until the third stage that these autoantibodies become severe enough to cause outwardly physical symptoms. Harley’s findings suggest that early blood work could lead to faster diagnoses of lupus in patients.

Symptoms Come In Waves

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the most common early symptoms of lupus are skin rash, joint pain, and fever and tend to “flare up” before suddenly settling down for prolonged periods of time.

In addition, the onset of these symptoms may take place rapidly or in a steady progression. Furthermore, these symptoms may appear altogether, singularly, or in unique combinations.

Inflammatory Disease

A major symptom of lupus is chronic inflammation. Inflammation triggered by lupus can affect various areas of the body including skin, kidneys, lungs, joints, and the nervous system. The most identifiable of these takes place on this skin and varies by lupus diagnosis.

Butterfly Effect

Acute cutaneous lupus causes a rash to appear when the skin is exposed to light. The rash covers the cheeks and the nose in the shape of a butterfly. However, it can also appear in other areas of the body, like the arms and legs, that have been exposed to light.

Circular Face Rash

A disc-shaped rash appears on the skin of people with chronic cutaneous lupus. Most commonly, the rash reaches from cheek to cheek while passing over the nose and extending to the ears. It is not known to be painful but can leave behind skin discoloration and cause hair loss if the rash extends to the scalp.

Ring Rash

Subacute cutaneous lupus appears in the form of scaly red patches on the skin. It is not limited to the facial skin, appearing in any area of the body that has been exposed to light. SCLE can even cause sensitivity to fluorescent lights.

Joint Pain

The effects of inflammation are not limited to skin rashes. According to the National Lupus Foundation of America, the vast majority of individuals suffering from lupus will endure joint discomfort. While it is feasible this pain will surface at any joint, it’s most likely to cause discomfort in the limbs.

More Than Basic Inflammation, Lupus Myositis

Lupus myositis primarily causes pain in the upper body and sitting bones. Individuals experiencing difficulty in performing basic tasks like getting in or out of the car may be experiencing early signs of myositis.

Without the guidance of physical therapy early on, this condition may lead to further muscle deterioration which will ultimately limit mobility further.

Raynaud’s Phenomenon

Known as Raynaud’s phenomenon, some individuals experiencing early signs of lupus will feel sensitivity in the fingers and toes. If exposed to severe cold, the fingers and toes may even turn a bluish tint due to sensitivity.

Mouth and Nose Ulcers

One-third of lupus patients experience ulcers in the nose or mouth at the onset of the disease. These ulcers can cause severe pain and tend to require prolonged periods of time for healing.

Scalp Irritation

People diagnosed with lupus often experience hair loss. Given this is a flare-up symptom, it’s occurrence is possible alongside other early symptoms, but generally occurs after the disorder has strengthened. Hair loss can occur all over the head or in patches that cause an overall thinning of the scalp hair.

Whole Bodily Tiredness

According to an article published by Grace E Ahn and Rosalind Ramsey-Goldman in the International Journal of Clinical Rheumatology, fatigue is a primary symptom of 53-80% of lupus patients.

This chronic, sometimes debilitating fatigue is unlinked to physical activity, placing lupus patients at risk for obesity. The researchers describe this fatigue as feeling an “extreme whole bodily tiredness.”

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Feeling Feverish

Individuals with autoimmune problems are prone to infection. Fever, a sign of infection, is common among individuals with lupus. Low-grade fevers around 99 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit are not unusual for lupus patients, while higher temperatures are less likely.


As pointed out by healthliving, a reduced blood cell count is often associated with lupus, causing anemia. Abnormal blood work can often be a clear detector of the onset of lupus. If anemic, an individual may experience fatigue, shortness of breath, bruising, and sensitivity to cold temperatures.

Swollen Lymph Nodes

Small bean-shaped structures, known as lymph nodes, exist throughout our bodies to fight infection. When overworked, lymph nodes swell and can be painful to the touch. If swollen, you’ll be able to feel these nodes along your neck and jaw, as well as behind your ears.

Chest Pain

Consistent, dull chest pain may be caused by lupus. Lupus can cause swelling in the sacs that surround that heart and lungs, leading to discomfort. Shortness of breath may also be coupled with this pain if it is your lungs are that being primarily affected.

Symptoms That May Suprise You

In this video, Anna Scanlon with New Life Outlook surfaces some less talked about symptoms, including depression and anxiety. Severe headaches and weakened teeth health may result, as well. Unfortunately, all of these symptoms are often overlooked as issues occurring independently of a major diagnosis, such as lupus.

Horrible Heartburn

Gastrointestinal problems like gastroesophageal reflux disease and peptic ulcers can occur in individuals living with lupus. Over the counter, drugs are often used a temporary fix, but generally, diet changes are the only solution.

Weight Change

The John Hopkins Lupus Center points out that weight change associated with lupus isn’t always weight loss, but can be weight gain too.

However, weight gain is most often associated with steroid medication so it’s more likely that of the two you’ll experience weight loss early on. As lupus activity picks up in its second stage, individuals sometimes experience this weight loss.

The Demographics

According to this video by WebMD, women are affected disproportionately by lupus and should take their disease into consideration if pregnancy is desired. Lupus usually strikes during childbearing years, but women with lupus are still able to have safe pregnancies. In addition, women of color are 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with lupus.

Lupus In Men

While less likely to occur in males, lupus does affect some of the male population. Symptoms overlap with that of what female’s experience.

Men often develop kidney inflammation known as lupus nephritis and high blood pressure associated with stress. In addition, lists “blood in urine” as a symptom to be cautious of.

Thyroid Problems

Hypothyroidism or underactive thyroids occur in 6% of people with lupus, which cause weight gain, fatigue, moodiness, depression, and dry skin.

The body’s metabolism is completely thrown off by an underactive thyroid and therefore, the only way to reverse these negative effects is to get it back into check.

Lupus patients experiencing the symptom of fatigue alongside hypothyroidism are placed at extra risk for weight gain and possible obesity.

Sjogren’s Syndrome

While less common than other symptoms, 10% of individuals with lupus do experience Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that attacks moisture-producing glands, simultaneously.

Individuals with Sjogren’s syndrome, experience dryness of eyes and mouth. Note that it’s possible to be diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome without also having lupus.


If you’ve experienced pain in your bones, you may be losing calcium and other vital minerals for bone health. Inflammation has been known to increase the risk of lupus patient’s likelihood of contracting osteoporosis. Just like with lupus itself, women are at greater risk for this condition.

Identifying Lupus

Lupus can only be diagnosed by medical professionals, through a series of procedures including blood work. Not all of the initial symptoms have to be experienced in order to be diagnosed with lupus.

Overlooking symptoms can lead to a late diagnosis, so don’t downplay symptoms if you think you’ve been experiencing the beginning stages of lupus.

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