What Does Lupus Feel Like?

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks healthy tissue.

Sometimes this tissue damage may be limited to issues with the skin or painful inflammation of the joints. Lupus can affect vital organs such as the heart, liver, lungs, or kidneys in more severe cases.

While there is no known cure for lupus, treatments are available to manage symptoms, reduce flare-ups, prevent complications, and improve quality of life.

Muscle and Joint Pain

Lupus can potentially affect nearly any part of the body, but one of the most common symptoms that most people experience is muscle and joint pain. This is often one of the first indications that something is wrong.

People living with lupus typically report feelings of stiffness and aching pain. Sometimes the area appears swollen, but not always. The person may also feel weak and fatigued.

These symptoms can come and go in flare-ups but will generally be a persistent, lifelong condition.

This symptom is sometimes compared to (and may be mistaken for) rheumatoid arthritis, another autoimmune disease that manifests as stiff and painful joints. The primary difference between the two conditions is that rheumatoid arthritis is generally limited to only the joints, while lupus typically affects the skin, organs, or other parts of the body.

Skin, Hair, and Nails

Another characteristic sign of lupus is a butterfly-shaped rash across the nose and cheeks. 

Red, flaky, scaly rashes may also appear anywhere on the skin. These rashes often result from oversensitivity to sunlight (or other UV light). Exposure to light may also trigger or worsen other lupus-related symptoms.

The nails may be brittle and easily crack or break off. In many cases, there is also swelling and discoloration at the base of the nails.

There may also be discoloration of the fingers or toes due to a condition called Raynaud’s phenomenon. Blood flow to the small vessels in the area is restricted by inflammation, leading to a blue or whitish color. This causes pain, tingling, or numbness and is usually triggered by cold temperatures or emotional stress.

Lupus can also cause hair thinning and hair loss. This may cause the person with lupus to go bald at a younger age than normal, but these patches of hair loss often grow back when a flare-up resolves.

Kidney Problems

Most people living with lupus will develop kidney problems, a condition is known as lupus nephritis. This will usually cause increased swelling around the body, especially in the ankles.

It can also provoke weight gain and high blood pressure.

In most cases, people diagnosed with lupus will go on to live a long and full life. However, in situations where it does become fatal, this is usually the result of lupus nephritis and kidney failure.

Heart and Lungs

It is also possible for lupus to affect the cardiorespiratory system.

People with lupus are more likely to develop atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, and other heart-related issues.

If the tissues around the lungs become damaged or inflamed, the person may experience difficulty breathing.

They may also feel chest pain, which could be an issue with either the lungs or the heart or even from issues with the chest muscles or rib joints.

Mental Health

Most chronic illnesses can be difficult to live with, especially when they come with disabling pain and frustrating impairments.

It is not uncommon for people living with lupus to develop depression or anxiety. This can also be worsened if lupus goes on to affect the tissues of the brain or nervous system.

If you or someone you know is living with lupus, treatment and maintenance will often be an all-encompassing affair involving components of both physical and emotional health. Symptoms can be widespread throughout the body and may come and go at seemingly random times. 

And although there isn’t a cure for lupus, management and treatment strategies continue to evolve, making it easier and more comfortable for lupus patients to live long and happy lives.