How Lupus Affects Your Body

  • portrait-of-woman
    From Head to Toe
    Lupus can affect nearly every part of your anatomy. As alarming as that may seem, there's a lot you can do to protect your health. Low-impact exercise like walking or swimming regularly, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, protecting your skin from the sun, and getting adequate rest all make a difference. Develop a strong relationship with your doctor so you can work together to create a treatment plan that is most effective for you.

  • woman-in-bed-looking-at-medicine
    Brain and Nervous System
    Complications to your central nervous system can cause symptoms such as headaches, depression, mood swings, confusion, seizures, or stroke. Fortunately, many lupus-related nervous system disorders can be treated or even reversed with medications.

  • Eyedrops
    Problems may include dry eye, glaucoma, cataracts, blocked tear ducts, and vision issues such as blurred vision, impaired vision, or vision loss. Remember to schedule annual comprehensive eye exams to help catch and address any eye issues you may develop.

  • canker sores
    Nose and Mouth
    About 95% of lupus patients develop sores or lesions inside their mouths or noses. You may also be more likely to experience recurrent canker sores than most people. Talk with your doctor if you develop canker sores. There are several different medications, such as topical corticosteroids, that can help.

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    Heart disease is a leading cause of death for people with lupus. Lupus can cause inflammation in certain areas of the heart that may lead to heart disease. The good news is that you can reduce your risk for heart attack by exercising regularly and quitting cigarettes if you smoke. In addition, your doctor may prescribe medications to address heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

  • Lung X-ray
    Pleuritis—inflammation of the membrane lining of the lungs—is the most common way lupus can affect your lungs. The condition may cause pleurisy, which occurs when you experience sharp, stabbing pain in your chest when taking a deep breath, coughing, sneezing, or laughing.

  • Woman with stomachache
    Gastrointestinal (GI) System
    Lupus can affect any part of the GI system, from your esophagus to your stomach to your intestines. You may develop digestive problems if your muscles aren't able to efficiently move waste through your intestines. Issues with the nervous system may also lead to irritable bowel syndrome.

  • Sunscreen
    Got a rash or a sore? Lupus causes skin disorders in about two-thirds of patients. And up to 70 percent of people with lupus are sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) rays—exposure to sun or artificial fluorescent light makes their symptoms worse. Protect any exposed skin with sunscreen that contains a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or above and blocks both UVA and UVB rays.

  • Blood
    About half of people with active lupus have anemia, or too few red blood cells that shuttle oxygen throughout the body. You can also develop leukopenia, an abnormal lowering of your white blood cell count, thrombocytopenia, a decrease in the number of platelets that aid blood clotting, or thrombosis, which can cause dangerous blood clots.

  • Mother holding child
    Reproductive System
    Lupus pregnancies are always considered high-risk. That's because you may have an increased risk for miscarriage or delivering prematurely. However, working closely with your doctor, it's possible to deliver a normal, healthy baby.

  • Knees
    Muscles and Joints
    Most people with lupus will experience joint and/or muscle pain. Inflammation is the most common cause for muscle aches and pains. Lupus arthritis occurs when you feel pain, stiffness, swelling, and warmth in your joints. Pain and anti-inflammatory medications can help. Many patients also find relief with moist heat, such as taking a shower, acupuncture, gentle yoga, and chiropractic adjustments.

  • Woman lying in bed
    When you have lupus, you have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis. Lupus itself may up your risk. In addition, medications used to treat lupus, such as corticosteroids, can cause bone loss. Combat bone loss by getting adequate calcium and vitamin D in your diet, engaging in regular exercise, and avoiding cigarettes.

  • Kidney
    Approximately 40% of people with lupus will develop kidney complications. Notify your doctor if you experience swelling, especially in your feet, legs, fingers, or eyes; blood in your urine; or an increase in the frequency of urination, especially at night. These symptoms could signal inflammation in your kidneys that, if left untreated, can lead to kidney damage and kidney disease.

Lupus Symptoms from Head to Toe

About The Author

  1. The Impact of Lupus on the Body. Lupus Foundation of America.
  2. How does lupus affect the blood? Lupus Foundation of America.
  3. How does lupus affect the renal (kidney) system? Lupus Foundation of America.
  4. How does lupus affect the lungs and pulmonary system? Lupus Foundation of America.
  5. What are the risk factors for heart disease, and how can I minimize my risk? Lupus Foundation of America.
  6. How does lupus affect the gastrointestinal system? Lupus Foundation of America.
  7. How does lupus affect the musculoskeletal system? Lupus Foundation of America.
  8. How does lupus affect the nervous system? Lupus Foundation of America.
  9. How does lupus affect the skin? Lupus Foundation of America.
  10. 15 Questions - Oral Issues with Lupus. Lupus Foundation of America.
  11. How does lupus affect my eyes? Lupus Foundation of America.
  12. Can I still plan a pregnancy? Lupus Foundation of America.
  13. How can I manage my fatigue? Lupus Foundation of America.
  14. Why is exercise so important in managing lupus, and what exercises could I do with lupus? Lupus Foundation of America.
  15. What is the best way to deal with my pain? Lupus Foundation of America.
  16. What is photosensitivity? Lupus Foundation of America.
  17. How does smoking affect people with lupus? Lupus Foundation of America.
  18. Handout on Health: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
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Last Review Date: 2018 Apr 11
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