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14 Silent Lupus Symptoms You Should Never Ignore

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 lupus symptoms as well, says Delphine Lee, MD, PhD, the former 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, CA. “The difference between the flu and lupus is that the flu gets better in four to 10 days,” she says, adding that the signs of lupus may last for weeks or months or come and go in cycles. Here are 11 under-diagnosed conditions your doctor might miss.

Woman standing on a scale.iStock/nensuria

You’re losing weight but you’re not on a diet


Sudden, overnight weight may be one of the first signs of lupus. 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. Oddly enough, weight gain can also be one of the signs of lupus. Dr. Lee says weight loss is more common, but lupus can also cause water retention, which may manifest as weight gain in some people.

Woman feeling her throat with her hand.iStock/Remains

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. “Swollen lymph nodes are occasionally seen as a result of a lupus flare,” says Joan T. Merrill, MD, the medical director of the Lupus Foundation of America and the head of the Clinical Pharmacology Research Program at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation Oklahoma City, OK. Those looking out for lupus symptoms will want to check in on their lymph nodes from time to time.  Lupus—along with other diseases—can also have symptoms which manifest in your feet.

Woman with a sunburned shoulder.iStock/07photo

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. Here are 10 diseases that show up first on your face.

Tired woman resting her head on her hands at her desk.iStock/PeopleImages

“Exhausted” doesn’t even begin to describe how tired you feel


“This isn’t just your everyday tiredness; with lupus, you feel like you literally can’t get out of bed,” Dr. Lee says. Anemia or low numbers of red blood cells is another symptom of lupus that can cause extreme fatigue, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.

Of course, exhaustion can have many causes ranging from depression to mononucleosis, to more. So this symptom on its own isn’t indicative of lupus, but if it’s one of a longer list of lupus symptoms, it’s worth considering.  Find out about 13 conditions that might be making you tired.

Woman rubbing her foot.iStock/MorePixels

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 sexually transmitted infections) but lesions on your mucous membranes are one of the common signs of lupus, Dr. Lee says. Here’s why millennials need to worry about autoimmune diseases like lupus.

Woman combing her hair in the mirror.iStock/Voyagerix

Your hair is coming out in clumps


While lupus can affect either gender, 90 percent of all diagnoses are in women between the ages of 15 and 44. And one of the most devastating symptoms of lupus is the loss of your beautiful locks, Lee says. You may notice your hair thinning and losing significant volume over a short period of time. Here are 15 serious diseases that strike women more than men.

Woman in a sweater holding a cup of tea with a lemon slice.iStock/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Your hands are freezing, even in the summer


Many women have cold hands and feet, as many men can attest. (“Did you just marry me because you wanted a bed warmer?”) But if your fingers or toes often get extremely cold, turn blue, or feel numb, it could be Raynaud’s syndrome. This syndrome is an illness that affects circulation in the extremities and can be one of the signs of lupus, Dr. Lee says.

Man in jeans holding his knee.iStock/Jan Otto

You feel like you’ve got arthritis but you’re only 30


Painful, swollen joints aren’t supposed to be a problem until you’re elderly, right? Not so fast, Dr. Lee says. Unfortunately, many young lupus patients experience arthritis-like symptoms in their joints, especially in their legs, with the pain being the worst in the morning and getting better as the day goes on. Here are 6 times you should be concerned about joint pain.

Man holding his heart as if having chest pain.iStock/stevanovicigor

You have chest pain


“Heart attack!” is everyone’s first (panicked) thought when having chest pain. But if your doc clears you for heart disease, lupus symptoms may be the cause. The autoimmune disease can cause swelling throughout the body, including in the sacs surrounding the heart and lungs, causing consistent, dull chest pain, Dr. Lee explains. If it’s your lungs that are primarily affected, you may also experience shortness of breath. Chest pain may be one of the signs of lupus, but it can also be the sign of a lot of other very serious illnesses. If you are experiencing chest pains, see a doctor immediately.

Man talking to a psychologist with a clipboard.iStock/sturti

You’re having a psychotic break


“Lupus can attack any organ in the body and that includes the brain, sometimes causing psychosis,” Lee says. “Many people come in thinking they’ve suddenly got schizophrenia or are going crazy but in reality, it’s the disease.” Neurological symptoms of lupus can include hallucinations (both visual and auditory), paranoia, confusion, moodiness, and seizures. If you are experiencing these things and have no prior history of mental illness, you may actually be experiencing one of the signs of lupus. Don’t miss these signs you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Man at a desk holding his back.iStock/Yuri_Arcurs

You’re legs are swollen


The kidneys are one of the most common organs to be affected by lupus. “Swelling in the legs can be seen when there is fluid retention due to kidney disease,” Dr. Merrill says.

Woman sitting at a table with coffee mugs.iStock/Sneksy

You have multiple miscarriages


Lupus can cause problems with blood clotting, Lee says, and one of the saddest manifestations of this are repeated miscarriages in women. Getting pregnant isn’t a problem, but staying pregnant can feel impossible. The clotting can also cause your periods to become heavy or irregular. It’s not the most common cause of infertility in women, but if you’re unable to have a baby and have some of these other symptoms, it’s worth getting tested for lupus.

Doctor in a white coat and clipboard talking to a patient.iStock/AJ_Watt

You have lots of random, unexplained symptoms that don’t go away


Often called “the great masquerader,” lupus is a tricky disease as the symptoms of lupus mimic so many other illnesses. “Each person is different in how they’re affected because it depends entirely on which organ is being attacked by the immune system,” Dr. Lee explains. Worse, the disease often comes in “flares,” or periods of time where symptoms are particularly bad, interspersed with long periods where you feel fine, making you wonder if you’re just imagining things. This means that lupus is often a disease diagnosed only by the process of eliminating all other possible causes, Dr. Lee says—a process which can be extremely frustrating and disheartening for patients as they struggle to find answers. Thankfully there is a simple blood test that looks for anti-nuclear antibodies which can be a good indicator of lupus. Ultimately, however, you have to trust your body, Dr. Lee says. If you feel sick and you’re just not getting better, it’s important to get to the root cause, no matter what that is. Next, read about these 42 strange symptoms that can signal a serious disease.

Sources
  • Delphine Lee, MD, PhD, director, Dirks/Dougherty Laboratory for Cancer Research and Department of Translational Immunology at John Wayne Cancer Institute in Providence Saint John’s Health Center, Santa Monica, CA.
  • Joan T. Merrill, MD, medical director of the Lupus Foundation of America, Oklahoma City, OK.
  • Lupus Foundation of America:"Common Symptoms of Lupus."
Medically reviewed by Tia Jackson-Bey, MD, on October 01, 2019

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen has been covering health and fitness for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 13 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She teaches fitness classes in her spare time. She lives in Denver with her husband, four children, and three pets.