22 Of The Most Common Lupus Symptoms In Women

There is a condition that affects an estimated 1.5 million people in the U.S., yet 66% of people in the U.S. haven’t even heard of it. This condition is chronic and can be debilitating during a flare-up. What is this mysterious condition? It’s lupus, a chronic autoimmune disorder that is little known and largely misunderstood. Since lupus is substantially more prevalent in women, it’s important to know the more common lupus symptoms in women.

What is lupus?

Lupus is a chronic disease of the autoimmune system. Normally the immune system fights off germs and bacteria and then resettles into a “maintenance” mode, but for those with lupus, the immune system remains on high alert, attacking healthy tissues at will. The body loses its ability to distinguish between healthy, normal functioning and signs of potential illness, so it attacks every part of the body as a foreign invader.

Women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more likely to develop lupus, with the risk for women of color two to three times higher than that of other races. For best treatment options, it’s important to recognize lupus symptoms in women early.

Other important things to understand about lupus include:

  • It’s not contagious and cannot be transmitted through any form of physical contact.
  • Lupus is not the same thing as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). In lupus, the immune system is working overtime. In HIV, the immune system is struggling to function at all.
  • Lupus can be successfully treated, and, although a chronic disease, it need not be fatal.

The most common lupus symptoms in women

Ten of the most common lupus symptoms in women include:

  • Severe and unexplained fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Unexplained, low-grade fever
  • Chest pain when breathing (pleurisy)
  • A butterfly-shaped skin rash that spreads over the nose and cheeks
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Painful, swollen, and achy joints
  • Signs of kidney nephritis, or changes in urine
  • Thyroid issues, leading to weight gain or loss
  • Skin and vaginal dryness

Do note that symptoms of lupus vary depending on how the condition manifests itself in the patient’s body. Also, symptoms may come and go. Lupus is a condition characterized by flare-ups when symptoms are severe and remission when all symptoms may disappear.

Let’s look at these in more detail.

1. Fatigue

Beyond normal tiredness, fatigue occurs even after long periods of rest or sleep and is unrelieved. While this is one of the most common lupus symptoms in women, fatigue alone does not necessarily mean that lupus is the diagnosis.

2. Hair loss

While thinning hair is normal to a degree mostly dependent on genetics, another early lupus symptom in women is an accelerated pace of thinning hair. It is normal to lose around 100 strands of hair every day, but hair loss in women may also include losing eyebrows and eyelashes. You can learn more about lupus hair loss here.

3. Unexplained, low-grade fever

One of the hallmarks of infection is fever, and an early warning sign is recurring low-grade fever for no reason.

This can be as low as 100 degrees, just .4 degrees higher than normal body temperature, so many women don’t even realize it is occurring.

4. Respiratory issues

Inflammation in the delicate tissues of the lungs can lead to difficulty breathing. When blood vessels in the lungs begin to swell, pleuritic chest pain – chest pain upon inhalation – can occur. Over time, lungs can actually shrink as lupus gets more severe.

5. Lupus rash

Approximately 50% of lupus sufferers develop a rash as an early symptom. These rashes may not be itchy and tend to appear directly before a flare-up (or in response to sunshine). Fingers and toes may also appear discolored.

One of the most common lupus symptoms in women is a butterfly-shaped rash across the face. You can learn more about that here.

6. Gastrointestinal issues

One of the symptoms of lupus in women that is easy to misdiagnose is gastrointestinal issues. This could include:

  • Mild heartburn
  • Upset stomach
  • Other issues with digestion and elimination

7. Painful, swollen, and achy joints

Inflammation in the joints that is left untreated can lead to permanent damage. Pain can come and go, so many women will discount this as a normal sign of aging or activity.

If joints continue to be stiff and swollen after taking an over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, a visit to the doctor is in order.

8. Signs of kidney nephritis, or changes in urine

Nephritis is a condition of the kidney when it becomes inflamed and is no longer able to process toxins in the body. Legs and feet may swell, and urine may turn darker in color. You may also experience pain in the kidney area or see blood in the urine.

Untreated, kidney nephritis can lead to end-stage renal failure.

9. Thyroid issues

The thyroid controls the body’s metabolism, and when affected by lupus it can wreak havoc.

An underactive thyroid is called hypothyroidism and an overactive one is referred to as hyperthyroidism. Both can cause extremes of weight gain and loss and an inability to properly utilize nutrients, resulting in moodiness, dry skin, and, in extreme cases, malnutrition.

10. Dryness

Lupus causes malfunction in the salivary glands, tear ducts, and mucosa of the vagina. What begins as simple discomfort can progress to more serious diseases such as Sjogren’s syndrome, which causes the tear ducts and salivary glands to shut down.

Other lupus symptoms in women

It is important to note that many of these symptoms are present in other conditions, and that not all lupus sufferers will experience every symptom all at once. There’s a wide range of symptoms associated with lupus. Some of the other symptoms that women report include:

  1. Anemia (low red blood cell count)
  2. Dizziness and fainting
  3. Unexplained mood issues, including depression
  4. Seizures
  5. Sensitivity to light (photosensitivity)
  6. Skin lesions
  7. Shortness of breath
  8. Headaches
  9. Cognitive difficulties, including confusion and memory loss
  10. Ulcers, especially in the mouth
  11. Swelling in the legs and around the eyes
  12. White or purple extremities (fingers and toes)

What causes lupus?

Lupus causes are not well-understood. For some women, there may be a genetic link in that they have a predisposition to an overactive immune system, perhaps inherited from a family member. Lupus occurs primarily in women between the ages of 15 and 44. African American women are two to three times more likely to develop lupus, and Hispanic women are also at increased risk.

Lupus triggers may include:

  • Exposure to sunlight: Specifically for those with a genetic susceptibility, sunlight may be a trigger for a lupus diagnosis
  • Infection: There are certain types of infections that can cause the autoimmune system to kick into overdrive
  • Medications: As explained below, some medications may cause a particular type of drug-induced lupus

Types of lupus

Although all types of lupus share some similarities as far as initial symptoms go, there are different types of lupus, each with their own set of complications and symptoms. These include the following.

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): SLE is exactly what it sounds like. This is the most common type of lupus and is what people are referring to when they think or talk about lupus. This type of lupus affects every system of the body, causing