Systemic lupus erythematosus, commonly referred to as lupus, can be a difficult condition to diagnose but around one in every 600 Australians are affected. It’s an unpredictable disease in which a person’s immune system attacks its own body's tissue, with symptoms and severity varying from patient to patient.
Although the disease can affect anybody, 90% of lupus patients are women and of these, 90% develop the condition during their reproductive years. For some, it’s life threatening and for others it’s entirely manageable.
In recognition of Lupus Awareness Month, here are some of the early warning signs that you might be suffering.
Ninety per cent of lupus sufferers will experience fatigue, weakness and lethargy.
Swollen or painful joints
Persistent joint pain and swelling is a common lupus symptom. Most sufferers find it occurring in their hands, wrists and feet, especially in the morning.
Skin rashes and photosensitivity
Lupus is sometimes marked by a distinctive “butterfly rash” forming over the bridge of the nose and cheeks, which is exacerbated by sun exposure.
Thinning hair is often one of the first signs of lupus as a result of scalp inflammation. Some experience it falling out in clumps while other notice it diminishing over time, with hair feeling brittle and breaking easily. Lupus can also lead to the thinning of other body hairs like eyebrows and eyelashes.
Recurrent, low grade fevers
Normal body temperature is around 37°C. Unexplained, low-grade fevers – above 37° C but below 38° C – can sometimes be an early sign of lupus.
Ulcers of the mouth and nose
Unlike typical sores that develop on the sides of the mouth or gums, ulcers triggered by lupus usually develop on the roof of the mouth and are painless. Lupus-related ulcers can also appear inside the nose.
Poor circulation in the fingers and toes
One third of lupus sufferers will experience Raynaud’s phenomenon, when their fingers turn white then bluish on exposure to stress, cold or vibration.
Chest pain and shortness of breath
Lupus often causes inflammation of the lining that surrounds the lungs (pleuritis) and the heart (pericarditis) which results in sharp chest pain and shortness of breath.
These are by no means the only indications that you might have lupus, the potential signs of this disease are numerous, including enlarged lymph nodes, loss of appetite, discoid rash, kidney inflammation, osteoporosis, seizures, dry mouth, dry eyes, gastrointestinal problems, anxiety, depression and more. Some sufferers may only experience a few of these symptoms while others may experience them all.
For further information, please consult your doctor.