Can you work with lupus? The answer to this question varies depending on the severity of your disease and how symptoms affect you on a daily basis. Lupus is known to be unpredictable, not only the way it affects the body symptomatically, but also in the mysterious and erratic timing of flare-ups. If you have been newly diagnosed with lupus, you may not know yet how it will affect your body. It may take time before you can determine what type of work and work schedule allows you to properly manage the disease. If your lupus diagnosis is somewhat recent, your symptoms might be moderate to severe and you may not be able to work at the moment or at your previous level of productivity. In these situations, it is critical to communicate with your physician, learn about treatment options, and determine if you may be able to continue working full-time in the near future. In the meantime, you may need to speak to your employer about transitioning to part-time work or ask for reduced hours temporarily. If your symptoms are mild to moderate, they may be managed with some minor work accommodations. Let’s take a closer look at some common symptoms that may negatively affect daily tasks and productivity, and which accommodations or lifestyle changes could help. Adapting to Living and Working With Lupus Symptoms Lupus symptoms are not only erratic, but they impact every individual differently. When you are initially diagnosed, it can be confusing to see some people with lupus who seem capable of working, while others are so ill they are unable to get out of bed. If you are still in a season of life where you are trying to get a handle on the disease and how symptoms affect you, it is helpful to be aware of some of the most common lupus symptoms and how they can affect workflow. Fatigue Feeling suddenly exhausted, or like you are “running out of gas” even though it is early in the day, is common for people living with lupus. Patients describe it as more than just being ‘tired’—it’s a complete lack of energy to accomplish the simplest tasks. The lack of energy may be due to disease activity, it may be a side effect of medication, or it could be the result of sleep deficiency due to unmanageable pain. There are ways to manage fatigue, including planning and prioritizing each day with efficiency in mind, so that your critical responsibilities are met before you begin to feel tired. It is also important to plan rest periods around your tasks. Establishing healthy eating habits and a regular sleep schedule are essential and may help alleviate this symptom significantly. If you cannot easily manage your fatigue, you may want to ask your employer if you can have a more flexible schedule, such as remote working hours, or if you can cut back hours temporarily. In addition, some employees with lupus ask for longer lunch breaks in order to take a short nap, or request starting their day later in order to get extra rest in the morning. Raynaud’s phenomenon Those newly diagnosed with lupus may experience their fingers feeling very cold and turning white or blue. Raynaud’s disease (RD) affects between 30 to 40% of people living with lupus. This phenomenon often causes pain, numbness, and tingling in the hands and/or feet. People living with lupus who also deal with RD and work with their hands, can find their symptoms get in the way of being productive while on the clock. Raynaud’s disease is caused by inflammation of the nerves or blood vessels that is triggered by stress or cold temperatures. It can often be brought under control if hands are soaked in warm water at the onset of an attack. Wearing mittens (which warm hands better than gloves do when you’re out in cold weather), avoiding decongestants (which can also trigger RD), and avoiding smoking or being around cigarette smoke are some additional ways to avoid and prevent Raynaud’s symptoms. Inflammation Joint pain and muscle aches are common symptoms for those living with lupus. Joint pain is often accompanied by fevers, which is the body’s response to inflammation in the joints caused by lupus. Muscle aches can then in turn be brought on by fever. The sudden onset of these symptoms, which are often experienced simultaneously, can make it difficult to work. Being prepared to combat these symptoms is key. Keep anti-inflammatory medications, a heating pad, deep tissue rub, or an ice pack on hand at your workstation to help make these symptoms more manageable. Also, you may be able to better manage the pain associated with these symptoms if provided with certain work accommodations available under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These accommodations might include speech recognition software that allows you to give your hands a break from typing periodically or a special chair that makes sitting for long periods more tolerable. These, and other reasonable accommodations, can be provided by your employer and can help you to continue working at the productivity level expected of you. How Accommodations Can Help You Keep Working The ADA provides individuals with disabilities the rights to reasonable accommodations at work that will help them manage and offset their symptoms so they are able to continue performing their job. Accommodations vary and may include special lighting for those who suffer from photosensitivity, the use of a service animal, special desk equipment, flexible scheduling, or working from home. Employees should make verbal requests for accommodations to their employer in person, with an additional request in writing. Most individuals will find employers are more than willing to accommodate employees and are committed to helping them achieve success at work. When Working Is No Longer Possible Not every individual living with lupus will be able to continue working in the same capacity they have grown accustomed to. For those who are unable to work for long periods or those who can’t work at all, applying for Social Security Disability benefits is an option. This program is designed to help people with lupus avoid financial hardship and provides continued access to essential healthcare coverage. Keep in mind, if it becomes necessary to apply for Social Security disability, your physician will play a key role in filling out the required documentation. It’s important to stay in touch with your doctor regarding your progress at work, and how your lupus symptoms affect your performance. Can you work with lupus? If you have been newly diagnosed with lupus and are still unsure if you will be able to continue working, give it time and listen to your body. Keeping a daily journal that records your symptoms, pain level, and any flare-ups can provide tremendous insight into how the disease affects you over time. Managing lupus symptoms and flare-ups can be difficult at times, but they are often followed by periods of remission. Finding ways to feel your best at work while keeping symptoms at bay will become easier as you learn certain health patterns, what triggers your symptoms, and what helps alleviate them.