A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Lupus: Recognize symptoms early to reduce complications

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can involve different organs throughout a patient’s life. Early lupus symptoms include prolonged or unexplained fever, joint pain and swelling, rashes and sensitivity to sun exposure, chronic intermittent chest pain or mouth sores.

What is lupus?

People with lupus have sensitivity to sun exposure and can develop rashes on their face and body.

Lupus is caused by auto-antibodies that attack the body’s tissues and can lead to organ damage. Early diagnosis and ongoing treatment by a rheumatologist can minimize complications. So, talk with your doctor if you or your child have any of the symptoms.

Because lupus impacts a number of different organs, symptoms can be wide-ranging including frequent fevers, joint pain or swelling, excessive hair loss or headaches. People with lupus have sensitivity to sun exposure and can develop rashes on their face or body. It also can cause chest pain and shortness of breath. In some cases, people have seizures or mental health related symptoms such as psychosis or depression.

Compared to adults, children usually tend to have greater disease severity and the disease is more prone to impact the kidneys, nervous system, blood and cardiovascular system.

If your provider suspects you have lupus, a rheumatologist will review your detailed medical history, do a physical exam and perform several blood and urine tests.

“Since the presentation of lupus can mimic many other diseases such as infections and cancer, it is important to rule out other, more common diseases before diagnosing lupus,” said Dr. Rohit Thomas-Kuruvilla, Marshfield Clinic Health System rheumatologist.

Multiple factors can influence why a person develops lupus. A family history of lupus and other autoimmune conditions and genetics can increase risk. African American, Asian and Hispanic individuals have a greater risk of developing the disease. Women of childbearing age are more likely to have it than men. However, 20% of the cases are in patients under the age of 20.

Lupus treatments

Symptoms can flare up and subside. How the disease affects you can change as you age. The most common treatments for lupus are steroids to control inflammation and other immune suppressive medications.

“Overall, the philosophy is to use the minimum duration and dose of immune suppression necessary to gain maximum disease control possible,” Dr. Thomas-Kuruvilla said.

Because these medications make people susceptible to infection, children and adults with lupus must receive all immunizations with the exception of some live vaccines depending on their disease severity and medications.

It’s important to see your doctor regularly to address routine health concerns and manage symptoms. Since prolonged use of steroids reduces bone density, weight-bearing exercises can help prevent osteoporosis.

Sun exposure can trigger a flare. Wear protective clothing in the sun like hats, long sleeves and pants, and eye protection. Patients should use sunscreen daily, regardless of weather and while inside, and they should stay out of the sun during the peak hours.

Making healthy choices can improve daily life for people with lupus.

“A healthy balanced diet and regular exercise with ideal body weight maintenance can help offset cardiovascular effects of the disease as well as side effects of medication such as steroids,” Dr. Thomas-Kuruvilla said.

For help with lupus, talk to a Marshfield Clinic Health System Rheumatology provider.

Find a Rheumatology provider Learn more about Rheumatology

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