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Effects of lupus on the body

The effects of lupus on the body, a complex autoimmune disease, are diverse and affect people in unpredictable ways.


Donald Thomas, MD author of The Lupus Encyclopedia for Gastrointestinal symptoms in lupus blog post

This blog on “Effects of Lupus on The Body” was edited and contributed to by Donald Thomas, MD; author of “The Lupus Encyclopedia.” Parts of this blog post come from “The Lupus Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Guide for Patients and Health Care Providers, edition 2


While lupus is a condition associated with symptoms like the butterfly rash and joint pain, the reality is far more nuanced. In this article, we delve into the effects of lupus on the body, exploring the wide-ranging impact of this condition, as discussed in “The Lupus Encyclopedia” in Chapter 5, titled “General Effects on the Body.”

The problems and symptoms of lupus vary significantly from person to person. Sometimes a newly diagnosed person will say, “I can’t have lupus. I don’t have the butterfly rash and joint pain.” But lupus affects everyone differently. For example, the butterfly rash is commonly shown in pictures to represent someone with SLE. However, the butterfly rash occurs in less than one-third of SLE patients. This rash is shown in photos because it is easy to recognize.

The Lupus Encyclopedia (2nd ed.), p. 103

Common Effects of Lupus on the Body

While lupus can manifest differently in each person affected by it, we commonly observe several common problems:

  1. Skin Involvement: Skin issues are prevalent in lupus. The can range from the classic butterfly rash to skin lesions, photosensitivity, and hair loss.
  2. Joint Pain and Inflammation: Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling (called arthritis) are common effects of lupus on the body. This can affect multiple joints and lead to stiffness and reduced mobility. Lupus can cause pain in multiple other ways, such as fibromyalgia and inflammation around tendons (tendonitis and tenosynovitis). 
  3. Fatigue: Profound and persistent fatigue is a hallmark of lupus, often impacting daily life and productivity.
  4. Kidney Involvement: Lupus nephritis is a kidney condition that can also arise. It leads to protein in the urine (called proteinuria) and high blood pressure. Also, in severe cases it can lead to kidney damage.
  5. Cardiovascular Issues: Lupus can also contribute to heart and blood vessel problems, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  6. Lung Complications: Lung inflammation and conditions like pleurisy can cause chest pain and breathing difficulties.
  7. Cognitive Dysfunction: Also referred to as “brain fog,” lupus can affect memory, concentration, and cognitive function.
  8. Blood Disorders: The effects of lupus on the body can lead to various blood-related complications. These can include anemia, clotting disorders, low white blood cell counts, and low platelet counts.
  9. Gastrointestinal Problems: Gastrointestinal issues like abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting can occur.
  10. Mood Disorders: Depression and anxiety are more common in lupus patients, partly due to the emotional toll of managing a chronic illness.
  11. Immunological Dysfunction: Lupus disrupts the immune system, making individuals with lupus more susceptible to infections.

The Unpredictable Nature of Lupus

People recognize the unpredictability of lupus. Symptoms can flare and recede, and the severity of the disease varies over time. Additionally, lupus can affect virtually any organ or system in the body, making it challenging to diagnose and manage.

Understanding the effects of lupus on the body is essential to provide better care and support for those living with this autoimmune disease. While there are common symptoms, it’s crucial to recognize that lupus is a highly individualized condition. The excerpt above from “The Lupus Encyclopedia” reminds us that the condition’s manifestations are diverse and not limited to the stereotypical image of the butterfly rash and joint pain. However with early diagnosis, medical management, and lifestyle adjustments, individuals with lupus can lead fulfilling lives and effectively manage their symptoms.

For more in-depth information on effects of lupus on the body:

Read chapters 1, and 5 to 28 of The Lupus Encyclopedia, edition 2

Look up your symptoms, conditions, and medications in the Index of The Lupus Encyclopedia

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