8 Complications of Lupus

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  • Lupus, shorthand for systemic lupus erythematosus, is a chronic autoimmune disease. Women are affected more frequently than men. Because lupus can cause inflammation throughout your body, it’s possible the disease can damage various organs. This can cause many complications. Thankfully, having lupus doesn’t mean you will experience all of these problems. But you should be aware of potential complications, and talk with your doctor about any concerns.

  • 1
    Kidneys
    kidney-disease-model-kidneys

    Up to 40% of people with lupus develop kidney complications that require treatment. This happens when inflammation prevents your kidneys from effectively filtering waste and toxins out of your blood. Ask your doctor about regular screening tests for kidney issues. Treating problems early can prevent permanent kidney damage.

  • 2
    Heart
    One female hand holding 3d printed human heart

    Heart disease is a leading cause of death among people with lupus. Lupus can inflame the sac around your heart, causing sharp chest pain. Over time, inflammation can interfere with your heart’s ability to pump blood. Imaging tests can identify heart conditions caused by lupus.

  • 3
    Lungs
    doctor-reviewing-x-ray-of-lungs

    The most common way lupus affects your lungs is by causing inflammation in the lining of your chest cavity. This can trigger sudden, severe chest pain, especially when you breathe. It can also lead to shortness of breath. Having lupus can also put you at greater risk of developing pneumonia.

  • 4
    Skin
    skin rash

    About two-thirds of people with lupus develop some kind of skin problem. This may include a rash on your face, chest, arms, or legs that gets worse when exposed to sunlight. For help in treating skin issues, talk with a dermatologist and try to avoid direct sunlight and artificial ultraviolet light.

  • 5
    Central Nervous System
    Serious doctor examining brain scan

    In some people, lupus affects the brain and nerves, causing headaches, dizziness, confusion, mood changes, and vision problems. It can also lead to more serious problems, such as seizures or stroke. If you have symptoms, talk with a neurologist.

  • 6
    Blood
    Blood clot, artwork

    Lupus affects your blood by decreasing red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. This can affect you in many ways. It can lead to anemia (low red blood cell count), increased bleeding, and thrombosis—when blood clots form inside your blood vessels, preventing the blood from circulating.

  • 7
    Blood Vessels
    Illustration of Narrowed artery

    People with lupus are at greater risk for atherosclerosis—a condition in which substances in your blood build up in your blood vessel walls and form plaque. Plaque narrows your blood vessels, restricting blood flow. This increases your risk for heart attack. Talk with your doctor about ways to reduce your risk for heart disease.

  • 8
    Bone Health
    woman-holding-x-ray-over-shoulder

    It’s estimated that 25% of premenopausal women with lupus have osteopenia—low bone density that might eventually lead to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis, which increases your risk for fracture and disability, can be caused by glucocorticoid treatments, as well as a lack of exercise, due to fatigue caused by lupus. Medication and lifestyle changes can decrease your risk.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jan 2

  1. Lupus Complications. American Academy of Family Physicians.http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/lupus/complications.html

  2. Impact of Lupus on the Body. Lupus Foundation of America. http://www.lupus.org/resources/impact-of-lupus-on-the-body

  3. How does lupus affect my bones? Lupus Foundation of America http://www.lupus.org/answers/entry/how-does-lupus-affect-my-bones

  4. How does lupus affect the heart and circulation? Lupus Foundation of America. http://www.lupus.org/answers/entry/lupus-and-the-heart

  5. How does lupus affect the nervous system? Lupus Foundation of America. http://www.lupus.org/answers/entry/lupus-and-the-nervous-system

  6. How does lupus affect the skin? Lupus Foundation of America. http://www.lupus.org/answers/entry/how-lupus-affects-skin

  7. Handout on Health: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Lupus/

  8. Lupus fact sheet. Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/lupus.html

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