Painful Joints and Body Weakness? It Could Be Lupus

Painful Joints and Body Weakness? It Could Be Lupus

Peace Nwoha |Apr 1, 2021

Do I Have Lupus?

Your body has an immune system that defends it from germs and foreign bodies. Sometimes, your body’s defense system mistakes some of the cells in your body for germs and begins to fight them. This is called an autoimmune disease, and lupus is just one example.

Lupus is a long-term autoimmune condition with alternating periods of mild to severe symptoms that cause pain and inflammation within your body. The most commonly affected areas include the skin, organs such as the lungs, kidneys, heart, and joints.

The Lupus Foundation stated that about 1.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with the condition. However, the figure might be higher if you consider cases that have not been reported. Lupus affects all age groups but has been found to have a higher incidence among women between the ages of 15 to 44, individuals with a family history of other autoimmune conditions or lupus, and some ethnic groups, including Hispanic, Native American, African American, and Asian American.

Types of Lupus

This article focuses on systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), as it is the most common type. When someone is talking about lupus, they are usually referring to SLE. However, there are four different types:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) — the most common type, affecting 70% of people with lupus.
  • Cutaneous — limited to the skin, causing rashes or sores (lesions). Approximately two-thirds of people with lupus will develop a form of cutaneous lupus.
  • Drug-induced — a lupus-like disease caused by certain prescription medications. This type is more common in men.
  • Neonatal — not true lupus, but a rare condition that affects the fetus and infant of a mother with lupus.

Symptoms of Lupus

The symptoms associated with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) include:

  • Body weakness
  • Loss of hair
  • Pain and swelling in the joints
  • A characteristic rash that spreads across the nose and cheeks commonly referred to as a “butterfly rash”
  • Headaches
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon in which the fingers turn blue or white when exposed to cold

The symptoms may develop slowly, and no two cases are exactly alike. They may be temporary or permanent, and they can range from mild to severe. The signs and symptoms are similar to those of other systemic conditions, so careful assessment is needed to diagnose properly.

Causes

The cause of this condition is still unknown, but some factors have been linked to the condition.

Estrogen Hormone

Lupus has been noted to occur more in females than males with worsened symptoms during menstruation and pregnancy. These findings have prompted clinicians to link estrogen with the condition.

Heredity

Although no gene is associated with the condition so far, it has been observed that individuals with this condition tend to have members of their family who also have other autoimmune issues.

Environmental Triggers

These can be from physical or emotional trauma, infections, medications, and radiation.

How to Manage Lupus

Management begins with an appropriate diagnosis. This usually includes your doctor taking a medical history to determine when the symptoms started, their frequency, duration, and severity.

A thorough physical examination is then conducted to identify the signs of the condition, such as:

  • Thinning or loss of hair
  • Tenderness and joint swelling
  • Butterfly or malar rash
  • Oral or nasal ulcers
  • Pain or difficulty breathing which may indicate lung involvement
  • Irregularities in heartbeat or function which could indicate heart involvement

Several screening tests may be done, including a chest x-ray, electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), urinalysis, blood tests, and tests for other specific areas that could be affected, such as the abdomen.

Treatment Options

As of today, there is still no cure for lupus. The condition can only be managed long-term through:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) and antimalarial medications to relieve joint pain and tenderness
  • Corticosteroids to stabilize the immune system
  • Steroid-based creams for butterfly rashes
  • In severe cases, medications that specifically target the immune system are often prescribed

You may also get referred to specialists who will help manage affected parts of your body, such as a cardiologist or rheumatologist. You should also ensure that you modify your lifestyle to reduce stress and environmental triggers and drink lots of water.

Complications

Lupus can cause severe pregnancy complications, sometimes resulting in miscarriage, so it is essential to involve your doctor throughout your pregnancy and delivery process. Since the condition affects the immune system in various parts of the body, long-term effects can manifest in several ways, such as:

  • Blood clots could get dislodged and block narrow blood vessels leading to loss of function of the affected organ
  • Inflamed blood vessels, lungs, and kidneys
  • Lung or Kidney failure
  • Memory loss
  • Alopecia or baldness
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Seizures

What is the Prognosis?

The prognosis for lupus varies because it affects everyone differently. Nonetheless, it is crucial that you begin managing the condition early. Do not hesitate to let your health care provider know about any new symptoms, pregnancy, or issues that may be bothering you.

Systemic lupus erythematosus is a long-term condition, and managing it can sometimes negatively affect mental health. Make sure to seek counseling and support when necessary, and try not to work under stressful conditions or in environments that can be detrimental to your health and well-being.

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