7 Symptoms Never to Ignore If You Have Lupus

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  • Systemic lupus erythematosus, lupus for short, is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects many parts of your body, from the skin to the organs. There is no cure for lupus, but its symptoms can often be effectively managed. However, when lupus progresses, it could cause complications you and your doctor should address as soon as possible. If you have lupus, here are some symptoms of lupus complications to watch out for.

  • 1
    Increased urination, blood in your urine
    Stack of five toilet paper rolls

    Needing to urinate frequently, especially at night, and bloody urine are just two kidney damage symptoms. Up to 60% of people with lupus develop kidney damage, including kidney failure. Kidney failure can affect other parts of your body as well. It can cause high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. People with lupus may also get frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs), the result of a weakened immune system caused by lupus medications.

  • 2
    Chest pain
    Middle aged African America woman with chest pain

    Heart disease affects many people with lupus. Lupus can lead to pericarditis (inflammation of the sac surrounding your heart), myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscles), endocarditis (inflammation of heart and valve tissue), high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease. If you notice any signs or symptoms of heart disease, it is vital you speak with your doctor as quickly as possible. Heart disease symptoms include:

    • Feeling of pressure in your chest that worsens when you lie down

    • Shortness of breath

    • Angina, chest pain that comes and goes

    If you experience any signs of a heart attack, such as chest pain alone or radiating to your neck, arm or back, combined with nausea, sweating, dizziness, or general feeling of being unwell, call 911. Heart disease and stroke risk often go hand in hand. If you show any signs of a stroke, such as weakness on one side of your body, slurring words or inability to speak, or loss of balance, call 911.

  • 3
    Shortness of breath
    Woman on exercise bike out of breath

    The inflammation associated with lupus often affects the lungs, resulting in such lung diseases as pulmonary fibrosis, pneumonitis, and chronic diffuse interstitial lung disease. Signs associated with lung problems include:

  • 4
    Difficulty breathing, sudden weakness
    African American woman at computer with headache

    Lupus can trigger blood clots throughout your body. Small clots in large blood vessels may not cause problems, but they can grow and eventually block blood flow to the area. Contact your doctor if you notice a spot on your arm or leg that is red, warm to touch, hard, or swollen. Clots can also dislodge and move to smaller vessels and become life threatening. A blood clot that travels to your lungs can cause a pulmonary embolism; a clot in a coronary artery can cause a heart attack; and a clot that moves into the brain can cause a stroke. Seek emergency help if you experience:

    • Blood in sputum (phlegm) you cough up
    • Lightheadedness
    • Difficult or painful breathing
    • Signs of a stroke (weakness on one side of the body, difficulty speaking, changes in vision)
    • Chest pain
  • 5
    Behavior changes
    Woman with backpack walking by train tracks

    Lupus can affect the brain and the nervous system overall. Tell your doctor if you experience changes in:

  • 6
    Back pain
    Woman with back pain

    People with lupus may lose bone density, particularly if they take medications, such as corticosteroids. Losing bone density could lead to osteoporosis. Signs of osteoporosis include:

    • Back pain, caused if a vertebra collapses or fractures
    • Stooped or curved back
    • Loss of height
    • Breaking a bone more easily than expected
    • Bone loss in your jaw, which your dentist may detect
  • 7
    Weakness, lightheadedness
    Woman with fever, cold or flu drinking tea in bed

    Another of several lupus complications includes blood conditions, such as anemia and vasculitis. Signs of anemia include weakness and lightheadedness, while signs of vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels) include:

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 16
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. How Lupus Affects the Renal (Kidney) System. Lupus
    Foundation of America. https://resources.lupus.org/entry/how-lupus-affects-the-renal-system
  2. How Does Lupus Affect the Cardiovascular System? Johns
    Hopkins Lupus Center. https://www.hopkinslupus.org/lupus-info/lupus-affects-body/lupus-cardiovascular-system/
  3. How Lupus Affects the Heart and Circulation. Lupus
    Foundation of America. https://resources.lupus.org/entry/heart-and-circulation
  4. Gordon C. Long‐term Complications
    of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2002;41(10): 1095–1100,
  5. Anemia. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20351360
  6. Vacsulitis. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/vasculitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20363435
  7. Blood clots. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/blood-clots/basics/when-to-see-doctor/sym-20050850