Have you heard of lupus, but you aren’t sure what the disease entails? Do you have a friend or coworker who has lupus, but seems to have inconsistent symptoms or sudden flare-ups? Have you experienced unusual, sporadic symptoms, with no explained cause?
Lupus, an autoimmune disorder, is somewhat of a chameleon of diseases. Often called the “great imitator,” it is hard to diagnose because the symptoms are different in each sufferer and often mimic other conditions. Many people live with the devastating symptoms of lupus for months — or even years — before they see a doctor or recognize that they may have the disease.
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, there are an estimated 1.5 million Americans with lupus and more than 16,000 new cases reported each year. Anyone can get lupus, but it is most common in women between the ages of 15 and 44, and among African-American and Hispanic/Latino women.
If you have any of the signs below, and they cannot be explained by other conditions, it may be time to see your doctor. Keep track of your symptoms with a journal or checklist — this information can help your doctor find the right diagnosis.
- Butterfly-shaped rash across your cheeks and nose
- Extreme tiredness
- Painful or swollen joints
- Unexplained fever
- Swelling in feet, legs, hands and/or around eyes
- Pain in your chest, especially when you breathe deeply
- Sensitive to sun or light
- Unusual hair loss
- Pale or purple fingers or toes
- Swollen glands
- Mouth or nose ulcers
- Anemia (low blood count)
- Depression, trouble thinking and/or memory problems
Diagnosing lupus often takes time. Your doctor will need to run several tests and study your medical history. If lupus is suspected, your doctor may refer you to a specialist such as a rheumatologist or a dermatologist, depending on your symptoms.