This autoimmune disease is tricky to diagnose because it mimics so many other illnesses. If you have more than four of any of these symptoms of lupus, it may be time to call your doctor.
You feel like you have the flu, but you’re not getting better
Fever, chills, muscle aches, and sleepiness are all classic signs of the common flu. But many people don’t realize they’re also some of the first symptoms of lupus as well, says Delphine Lee, MD, PhD, director of the Dirks/Dougherty Laboratory for Cancer Research and Department of Translational Immunology at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “The difference between the flu and lupus is that the flu gets better in four to 10 days,” she says, adding that lupus symptoms may last for weeks or months or come and go in cycles.
You’re losing weight but you’re not on a diet
Sudden overnight weight loss may sound like a dream, but with lupus it may be one of the first signals of a nightmare. Because lupus is an autoimmune disorder, causing the body’s immune system to attack itself, it can throw your thyroid and hormones out of whack which in turn affects your weight. Dr. Lee says weight loss is most common but lupus can also cause water retention which may manifest as weight gain in some people.
You have tender bumps on your neck
Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped structures throughout your body that help fight infection and filter out harmful substances. Normally you can’t see or feel them but when they’re working overtime, as in the case of lupus, they can become visibly swollen and painful to touch. The most common place to feel them is along your neck, down your jaw, and behind your ears but they can also swell in your groin, abdomen, armpits, clavicle, and other places.
You get a rash in bright sunlight
A red, butterfly-shaped rash over your nose and cheeks that is triggered by sunlight is one of the more unique symptoms of lupus, Dr. Lee says. At first, it may look like you simply have a flushed face from the heat but unlike a heat rash, a lupus rash may linger long after you’ve left the sun.
“Exhausted” doesn’t even begin to describe how tired you feel
“This isn’t just your every day tiredness; with lupus you feel like you literally can’t get out of bed,” Dr. Lee says. Of course, exhaustion can have many causes ranging from depression to cancer to mononucleosis so this symptom on its own isn’t indicative of lupus but if it’s one of a longer list of lupus-like symptoms it’s worth considering.
You have blisters in weird places
A blister on your heel? Call a cobbler. A constellation of blisters inside your nose or mouth? Call a doctor. There are other illnesses that cause painful bumps on your body (such as STDs) but lesions on your mucous membranes are a common sign of lupus, Dr. Lee says.