20 Ways Lupus Affects the Body You Should Know

Lupus, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus, is an autoimmune disease that can affect almost any part of the body, especially the skin, blood, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, and brain.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can affect every part of the body, including skin, joints, and major organs.

Visualize the Effects of Lupus on the Body

Lupus, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus, is an autoimmune disease that can affect almost any part of the body, especially the skin, blood, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, and brain.

According to the American College of Rheumatology, lupus is diagnosed 10 times as often in women as in men, and most are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s. It’s a complex disease generally treated by a specialist called a rheumatologist.

Symptoms of lupus can flare up and go away periodically, and they can mimic those of many other conditions. Treatment focuses on preventing major damage to the kidneys and other organs. Other treatments aim to reduce individual symptoms like pain and inflammation.

Skin and Hair

The hallmark sign of lupus is a butterfly-shaped rash that often appears over the bridge of the nose and extends to the cheeks. A rash also may occur on the neck or chest, and the skin may appear scaly. People with lupus tend to be sensitive to sunlight and prone to sunburns after only brief exposure to sun. In some cases, skin ulcers may form on the inside of the nose, mouth, or tongue.

Some people with lupus develop Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition in which the skin of the ears, nose, fingers, and toes turn numb and pale or purple when exposed to cold.

Lupus may cause hair to break easily. Inflammation of the skin is often an early sign of lupus that usually results in thinning of the hair and loss of eyelashes, eyebrows, facial hair, and body hair. Hair may grow back with treatment. However, permanent hair loss occurs when lesions form on the scalp.

Digestive System

The digestive system is responsible for extracting nutrients from the food you eat and ridding your body of waste products. Lupus can affect the entire digestive system, beginning with the mouth. People with lupus are prone to lesions on the inside of the cheeks, the lower lip, or the roof of the mouth. Certain medications prescribed to treat lupus can increase your risk for oral lesions.

Some people with lupus develop secondary Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that attacks glands in the mouth and eyes, causing dryness. Lack of saliva encourages dental cavities and gum disease.

When the esophagus is inflamed, stomach acid can be forced back into the esophagus (acid reflux), causing heartburn and gas. It can also make swallowing difficult (dysphagia).

Some people with lupus take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). This can increase risk of bleeding ulcers in the stomach lining or where the stomach meets the bile duct, pancreatic duct, and small intestine (duodenum). Helicobacter pylori bacterium also can cause ulcers, a common problem for people with lupus.

Inflammation can cause fluids to build up in the lining on the inside of the abdomen (peritoneum). Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, fever, and constipation. Lupus patients are at increased risk for inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis). Use of diuretics, immunosuppressants, or corticosteroids increases this risk.

Digestive symptoms include constipation, diarrhea, and nausea. These problems can be aggravated by the use of corticosteroids or NSAIDs. Ulcers that form in the colon and rectum may cause bloody diarrhea.

Excretory System

The excretory system helps eliminate toxins from the body. The kidneys may become inflamed, but symptoms aren’t always obvious. Problems with the kidneys are usually detected with a blood test.

Inflammation can cause the liver to become enlarged. People with lupus are prone to jaundice, which can cause yellowing of the skin and eyes, and autoimmune hepatitis, which can scar the liver.

Circulatory System

The circulatory system is responsible for circulating blood through the body. Lupus can lower the body’s ability to make red blood cells, resulting in anemia. Lupus can also cause inflammation of the heart or blood vessels, which can interfere with blood flow. This can lead to heart attack, infection, and tissue death. The Lupus Foundation of America cites heart disease (coronary artery disease) as the leading cause of death for people with lupus.

Pericarditis is a condition in which the sac that surrounds the heart (pericardium) becomes inflamed. Chronic pericarditis can scar heart tissue and affect the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. Inflammation of the heart muscle (myocardium) can cause an irregular heartbeat.

Lupus also can cause a thickening of the surfaces of the heart valve (endocarditis). This increases risk for infection and formation of clots. People with lupus are at increased risk of atherosclerosis caused by plaque, which narrows blood vessels and hinders blood flow.

Corticosteroids, which are used to treat lupus, may increase risk of hypertension, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.

Central Nervous System

Restricted blood flow in the brain can cause dizziness, headaches, mood swings, and concentration problems. In rare cases, it can lead to seizures.

Lupus patients who develop secondary Sjogren’s syndrome have decreased tear secretion, resulting in very dry eyes. This can cause burning, itching, sensitivity to light, and blurry vision. Chronic dry eyes can lead to scarring or ulceration of the cornea.

Reproductive System

Women with lupus are advised not to use intrauterine devices due to increased risk of infection. Some women are unable to tolerate birth control pills.

Having lupus can complicate a woman’s childbearing years. Women with lupus may have difficulty conceiving and are at higher risk for miscarriage, especially early or late term. Careful monitoring can help reduce the risk. Flare-ups of lupus are more likely to occur during pregnancy, and so are hypertension, kidney problems, and diabetes.

The good news is that with proper medical care, most women with lupus can have healthy babies.

Immune System

The immune system exists to ward off attacks from foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. In people with an autoimmune disease, the system mistakenly launches a sustained attack on healthy tissue in the body. In the case of lupus, attacks cause inflammation that can occur almost anywhere. The most common areas are the skin and joints. General symptoms include fatigue, fever with no known cause, and swollen glands.

Researchers don’t know exactly what triggers lupus, and there is no cure. Treatment focuses on symptom management and preventing damage to major organs.

Respiratory System

It can hurt to breathe when the lungs or the linings of the chest cavity become inflamed. It also may cause shortness of breath and chest pain. Inflammation of lungs increases risk of pneumonia.

Skeletal System

When inflammation occurs in and around the joints, resulting in pain, stiffness, swelling, and limited range of motion. Chronic inflammation in the joints can wear down bone and destroy cartilage.

Muscular System

Inflammation can cause muscle aches and pains. Rarely, muscles can appear red and swollen, and feel warm to the touch. Muscle inflammation due to lupus doesn’t usually result in permanently weakened muscles. Over-the-counter medications, heating pads, cold packs, or warm showers and baths can usually relieve symptoms.