Lupus is an autoimmune disorder characterized by chronic inflammation of the organs (brain, kidneys, heart, lungs, and skin), joints, and/or blood. There are four main types of lupus, but the most common form is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Lupus affects many different parts of the body causing a variety of symptoms, including fatigue, joint pain, headaches, and swelling in the joints, hands, and feet. Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because it presents in flares during which the symptoms are more noticeable and pronounced followed by a remission of symptoms. Women of childbearing age (15 -44 years of age) are at the greatest risk for developing lupus. However, this inflammatory disease can affect people of all ages, including newborns. The Lupus Foundation of America states that over 1.5 million people in the United States and over 5 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with lupus. While lupus is a chronic disorder, most sufferers can live normal lives with proper medication and self-management.
Symptoms can be widespread all over the body. Most of them tend to occur during flares, but some may be present all the time. These include:
- Disabling fatigue
- Joint pain
- Joint swelling
- Low-grade fever
- Puffiness in the hands, feet, and legs
- Chest pain
- Rash on cheeks and nose
- Sensitivity to sunlight
- Mouth ulcers
- Blue fingers with temperature changes (Reynaud’s)
- Hair loss
- Blood clots
When lupus flares, many people complain of “feeling like they have the flu” because their body is attacking itself as if its cells were foreign. The disorder is often mistaken for chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, or arthritis.