Lupus is an autoimmune disease that is characterized by widespread inflammation throughout the body. It occurs when an individual’s immune system begins to attack their own body from the inside out. Lupus can possibly affect the joints, heart, kidneys, lungs, blood cells, and skin.
Women are nine times more likely to be diagnosed with lupus than men. Lupus symptoms may come on quite suddenly. These are known as lupus flares. The symptoms of the flares will be dependent upon what parts of an individual’s body are most affected by their lupus.
Types of Lupus
There are several different types of lupus. Discoid, Drug-Induced, Neonatal, and the most common type- the one that is referred to simply as “lupus”- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.
Discoid lupus only affects the skin, with the symptoms being a rash that appears on the face, neck, and scalp. The organs are not affected by this form of lupus.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is more severe than discoid lupus because it actually affects the organs and organ systems of the body. This form of lupus has periods of flares, where the condition is active and remission, where the condition is dormant.
Drug-induced Lupus occurs as a result of interactions with specific prescription drugs. Once the individual stops taking the medication that is causing the lupus, it will clear up.
Neonatal Lupus is a very rare condition. This occurs when the mother passes the autoantibodies on to the fetus. The baby will have skin rashes and blood/heart complications. A newborn a rash may appear, but will clear up within six months.
Symptoms of a Lupus Flare
When your lupus begins to flare up, you may experience some of the following signs and symptoms.
You may have a rash that appears on your cheeks and across your nose. Often, the shape of this rash is compared to the shape of a butterfly. Additionally, you may have sores on your skin or in your mouth that develop.
An individual who is experiencing a lupus flare could experience some level of chest pain, as well as pain and swelling in their joints– for example, elbow or knee joints.
Mental Health Symptoms
When lupus flares up, an individual is likely to deal with some anxiety and depression. Additionally, they may experience a bit of memory loss.
Changes in Weight
An individual who has lupus could cycle through some noticeable weight changes- either gaining or losing weight during a lupus flare.
Other Signs and Symptoms
Some other signs and symptoms an individual may experience during a lupus flare are: hair loss, fatigue, bruising easily, dry eyes, and fever. Also, they may notice that their fingers and toes turn blue or white when they are feeling overly stressed or in really cold temperatures. This discoloration of fingers and toes is referred to as Raynaud’s Phenomenon.
Causes of Lupus Flares
Individuals with lupus typically must deal with unpredictable bouts of the condition- called flares. These flares are then followed by periods of what is called remission- where the condition lies dormant for a while. The causes of a flare are just about as unpredictable as when the flare will occur. However, there are some common triggers, including exposure to sunlight (especially individuals who are photosensitive) and an illness that the individual just can’t shake. Also, stress, specific medications, and even pregnancy can trigger a lupus flare in some individuals.
For those who have not received an official diagnosis of lupus, if the cycle of having symptoms and then not having symptoms keeps happening, then that is your first clue that you could possibly have lupus. For those who have been diagnosed with lupus, the flares might occur less- simply because you know how to treat and manage/prevent them.
Signs a Flare is Coming
Just before an individual experiences a lupus flare, there are some signs and symptoms that are likely to appear:
- A feeling of persistent fatigue and feeling out of sorts
- A feeling of achiness all over
- Feeling very weak
- Loss of appetite
- Moderate to high fever
- An increase in hair loss
- An involuntary weight loss
- Increased nosebleeds
- Painful, swollen, stiff joints
- Unexplainable rash on the skin
- Chest pain that increases with breathing and shortness of breath
- Unusual headache that won’t go away
- Puffy eyelids
- Abdominal pain
- Blood in urine
Preventing/Managing Lupus Flares
Plans for treating lupus typically help to manage the signs and symptoms of flares. Those treatment plans could include:
- Aggressive treatment of infections
- Good nutrition/Proper exercise
- Sufficient physical and emotional rest
- Avoiding direct sunlight/other sources of UV light
When an individual is experiencing a flare, they must take it seriously and treat it properly because it is a sign that there is an increase in the activity of the condition. This is why it is so important for individuals with lupus to take good care of themselves, as well as to understand and follow the treatment plan set forth by their physician.
Warning about Medications
Sometimes, one of the flare triggers can be medications. This is one of the more unexpected triggers, of course. It may seem that it will help, but it is actually harmful. Therefore, before you begin taking a new medication or before stopping a medication (bot prescribed and OTC), you should check with your physician to see if there is a possible risk of triggering a flare. Also, make sure to let any medical professional who isn’t familiar with your history, know that you have lupus so that they are aware of it when giving you prescription medications.
Be very careful of scalp and skin combinations. Be sure that you don’t have a sensitivity to it by trying it on your forearm or the back of your ear. If you do have a reaction such as itching, pain, or a rash- then do not use the product.
Before receiving immunizations, consult with your physician- even routine ones such as those for pneumonia and flu. Though they are important for maintaining your overall health, your physician must approve it before you receive it.