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Lupus and Lupus Kidney Disease - Symptoms of Lupus


The symptoms of Lupus can be:-

1) Tiredness and fatigue. Lupus patients commonly report unusual tiredness, although of course many other conditions can cause this symptom. There may be some mood changes, perhaps with excitability or depression.

2) Joints. It is common for Lupus to cause pain and swelling in joints. Any joints can be affected, but it is commonest for the hands and feet to be affected.

3) Skin. Lupus can cause several different types of skin rash. The three commonest are:-

  • a flush across the cheeks, called a butterfly rash because it forms a shape a little like the wings of a butterfly across the cheeks (with the nose forming the body of the butterfly).
  • patches of raised and discoloured skin, often on the face or upper body. This is called discoid Lupus, because the rash forms disc shapes on the skin
  • small red spots on the lower legs, which are tiny little blood blisters. These form because Lupus has caused tiny blood vessels under the skin to burst. This is called a vasculitic rash, because (in medicine) blood vessels are called 'vascular', and '-itis' means inflammation

4) Kidneys. About 1 in 3 Lupus patients will get some kidney disease. This is discussed in detail elsewhere on the main Lupus page - go back for more details.

5) Brain. Lupus can cause brain disease, though fortunately serious brain disease is rare. This can be a blood clot in the brain, causing a stroke with weakness of an arm or leg. In other cases Lupus can cause tiny spots of brain damage throughout the brain, causing behaviour or mood changes. Sometimes Lupus can cause a sudden serious behaviour disturbance which requires urgent treatment. Any of these problems can cause epilepsy. This is a condition where fits occur at intervals. A fit is a collapse or loss of consciousness associated with shaking movements of the arms and legs, sometimes with incontinence of urine.

6) Eyes. Lupus can cause inflammation in the eyes, or sometimes one eye at a time. There may be pain or redness around the eye, or just a reduction in vision in the eye. Lupus disease in the eye is treatable, and it is extremely rare for blindness to occur.

7) Pregnancy. Lupus can cause miscarriage in some women while they are pregnant. In some women it causes recurrent miscarriages. Lupus can affect the baby while it is in the womb, or for a while after birth. Women who are thinking of getting pregnant should talk to their specialist about any risks to the pregnancy in their particular case, and any changes in treatment that might be necessary.

8) Blood clots. Lupus patients, especially those who have an antibody in the blood called 'anti-cardiolipin antibody', are prone to blood clots. These can cause pain or swelling in a leg. If small parts of blood clots pass up into the lungs, there can be chest pain, breathlessness and coughing up of blood. If blood clots do occur, it is necessary to take drugs to reduce the clotting of the blood (these are called anticoagulants; heparin and warfarin are most commonly used), in some cases for life.

9) Lung and heart. Fluid can collect in body cavities around the lungs or around the heart (called pleural effusion and pericardial effusion respectively). These fluid collections are often small and may not cause any problems, but sometimes need draining with a needle if they are squashing the underlying organ. Lupus can cause someone to cough up blood, and this problem must be reported to doctors immediately. The two main causes of coughing up blood are bleeding into the lungs in a Lupus crisis (See 'Lupus crisis' section of main Lupus page...), and blood clots in the lungs. Lastly, Lupus can cause scarring in the lungs and breathlessness on minimal exertion.

10) Anaemia. Lupus can affect the bone marrow, with antibodies attacking blood cells. This can cause low counts of any of the three main types of cell in the blood. These three types are: the red cells which carry oxygen around (a shortage of these red cells is called anaemia); the white cells which fight infection (a shortage is called leucopaenia); the platelets which make the blood clot (a shortage is called thrombocytopaenia).

All other parts of the body are occasionally affected in Lupus, though much less commonly.

Return to Lupus main page (What are the symptoms of Lupus?)

The National Kidney Federation cannot accept responsibility for information provided. The above is for guidance only. Patients are advised to seek further information from their own doctor.

NKF Controlled Document No. 28: Symptoms of Lupus written: 20/11/2000 last reviewed: 16/03/2015