Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) — commonly referred to simply as lupus — is a long-term disease that causes system-wide inflammation. This chronic condition occurs when your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, referred to as autoimmunity.
Because lupus affects many different body systems, symptoms and experiences vary. No two cases are exactly alike. Rheumatology specialist Barbara Kage, MD, and the team at Rheumatology and Allergy Institute of Connecticut provide comprehensive care for a full range of rheumatic conditions, including lupus.
How lupus affects the body
Lupus affects several different parts and systems of your body, and symptoms tend to come and go in waves referred to as flare-ups. During flares, symptoms are more prominent and severe. The following are some of the ways lupus may affect you.
Lupus commonly causes skin problems. People with lupus may experience a facial rash across their cheeks in the shape of a butterfly. Other skin issues include circular rashes called plaques. Exposure to sunlight can make lupus skin inflammation worse.
Joint pain and stiffness is a common feature of arthritis. Many people with lupus have arthritis and wake up with stiff joints in the morning that gradually improves throughout the day. Joint pain may be constant or you may have flare-ups that last a few days to weeks.
Heart and lungs
Lupus can cause heart and lung inflammation. Pericarditis — inflammation of the pericardium — is common. The pericardium is a protective sac that surrounds the heart and acts as cushion, and while the condition isn’t life-threatening, it can cause chest pain and other symptoms.
Lupus may affect the heart in other ways, too. Close monitoring during flare-ups affecting your heart are necessary to keep you as healthy as possible.
Up to half of patients with lupus have kidney involvement. Kidney flares in lupus are potentially life-threatening.
Your kidneys have the crucial roles of filtering waste from the blood, helping to control blood pressure, and maintaining mineral balance. When lupus causes kidney inflammation, the kidneys can’t do their job as efficiently, causing waste to build up in the blood. It’s important to diagnose kidney disease early to preserve their function.
Lupus can affect your blood, causing low numbers of red and white blood cells or platelets. Because white blood cells protect your body from infection, a drop in white blood cell count boosts your risk of infection. Blood problems in lupus often cause no symptoms, or symptoms may be subtle. That’s why it’s important to have periodic blood tests.
Common lupus symptoms
Lupus causes a wide range of symptoms depending on the affected body system. This makes lupus difficult to diagnose, as many of the symptoms overlap with other medical conditions. Symptoms may develop slowly over time or start suddenly and flare-up regularly. Some patients have long symptom-free periods.
If you have a lupus flare, you may experience:
- Joint pain
- Hair loss
- Muscle pain
- Chest pain
- Dry eyes
- Mouth sores
- Swollen glands
- Shortness of breath
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Each patient’s situation is unique, so it’s important to partner with a specialist like Dr. Kage.
Who is more likely to get lupus?
Lupus affects people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. It is, however, much more common in women. About 90% of lupus cases are diagnosed in women during their reproductive years.
Because lupus is difficult to diagnose, it’s challenging to pin down the exact number of people with the condition. It’s estimated that around 1.5 million people in the United States are living with lupus.
Patients of certain ethnicities are more likely to have lupus. People of African American, Asian, and Hispanic heritage are at a higher risk. You’re also at a higher risk if you have a close relative with lupus.
Seeking help from a rheumatologist is the first step to managing lupus so that you can enjoy life. Rheumatologists like Dr. Kage specialize in diagnosing and treating inflammatory conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system. With the right care, people with lupus learn the best ways to manage and minimize their flares and can lead healthy, fulfilling lives.
To get started, contact our office in Manchester, Connecticut, by calling or booking an appointment online with Dr. Kage. Getting you to the best level of health possible is our top priority.