Health and Wellness

You Might Have Lupus and Not Even Know it

Posted by Benafsha Irani, D.O. on Oct 21, 2015, 11:00:00 AM

Lupus is an auto-immune disease that affects an estimated 1.5 million people, mostly women. It often takes years to be correctly diagnosed with lupus. This is because the symptoms of the disease manifest uniquely in each patient and are often similar to other illnesses. In fact, it is highly likely to have lupus and not even know it.

Keep an Eye on that Rash

One of the most telling signs of lupus is a rash often described as “butterfly shaped” which spreads symmetrically over the bridge of the nose and on both cheeks. While the rash could be mistaken for a simple dermatological issue, nearly 50 percent of people who have lupus have this butterfly-shaped rash. If you notice a rash in this shape after exposure to sunlight, or even suddenly when there wasn’t anything there the day before, take note. If you’re experiencing other symptoms, it may be time to visit your doctor.

Often Overlooked Symptoms


One of the problems physicians have in diagnosing lupus is that patients don’t recognize   symptoms associated with an auto-immune disease and, therefore, may not report symptoms they’re experiencing to their doctor. Here are some often-overlooked symptom

  • Fatigue – Fatigue in our fast-paced lives isn’t unusual, so oftentimes patients with lupus dismiss being chronically tired as not getting enough sleep. While it may seem like it’s not a big deal, some 90 percent of people with lupus suffer from fatigue.
  • Joint pain, stiffness and swelling – These symptoms can begin at mild levels in the morning and overtime gradually increase in severity. Because people with these symptoms often experience the pain and stiffness after waking, it is sometimes overlooked as the result of normal aging or sleeping in an uncomfortable position. If over-the-counter medication isn’t helping with the pain, stiffness or swelling, take note.
  • Headaches – Allergies, looking at a computer screen for too long, eating certain foods, all of these things can cause headaches, so patients may not recognize this as a symptom to alert their doctor about during an appointment.

The list of potential symptoms of lupus are long and varied for every patient, however, other symptoms to keep an eye on are: photosensitivity, hair loss, unexplained fever, confusion, memory loss, dry mouth or eyes, thyroid problems, gastrointestinal problems, shortness of breath, chest pain and fingers or toes turning blue when exposed to cold or stress. This is by no means a comprehensive list. These are just the symptoms that often align with other illnesses and can prolong a lupus diagnosis. 


When to See a Doctor

So when is it time to see your physician? If you see the butterfly-shaped rash, have an ongoing unexplained fever, constant aching or persistent fatigue, it’s time for a medical evaluation. However, you don’t have to wait for these things to come up. If you have any concerns or questions, it’s time to see your doctor. Auto-immune diseases typically run in families, so if you have a family member who has lupus and are experiencing any of the symptoms I’ve written about, make an appointment. Whether you do or don’t have lupus, you’ll be one step closer to finding the right treatment plan. 



Dr. Benafsha Irani is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who cares for patients at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic – Clear Lake. Her interests include adult medicine, children’s health, women’s health and preventive medicine.

Topics: butterfly shaped rash, lupus

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