Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disorder with symptoms that range from mild to life-threatening.  SLE is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks your own tissues, causing widespread inflammation and tissue damage in the affected organs. However, lupus is relatively uncommon.

SLE affects the joints, skin, kidneys, lungs, heart, blood vessels and nervous system. There is no cure, but treatments and lifestyle changes can improve function and quality of life.

What causes lupus?

The cause is unknown but has been linked to genetics, hormones and the environment. Women of child-bearing age are at the greatest risk of developing SLE. Racial and ethnic women are affected more often than Caucasians. Men are rarely affected.

What are the symptoms of SLE?

The most common feature is joint involvement. Symptoms often come and go (flare and remit). Most of those affected have some of these symptoms, but because of the wide range of symptoms, your Ortho Illinois rheumatologist must determine the cause of your symptoms.

Symptoms include:

  • Low grade fever
  • Painful and swollen large joints including hip pain
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches and pain
  • Weight loss
  • Swollen glands
  • Swollen hands and feet and swelling around the eyes
  • Headache
  • A butterfly rash across the cheeks
  • Lax ligaments
  • Raynaud’s syndrome
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Chest pain
  • Tendonitis and bursitis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

Lupus and Osteoporosis

Importantly, osteoporosis is a common complication of lupus and the steroid medications used to treat lupus can cause significant bone loss. Pain and fatigue cause inactivity which increases the risk of developing osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is a condition where the bones become brittle and lose density increasing the risk of fractures. Studies report that women with lupus are almost five times more likely to suffer a fracture from osteoporosis.

Lupus Arthritis

Lupus arthritis causes typical lupus symptoms like pain, stiffness, swelling, joint tenderness that can look like rheumatoid arthritis. Thus, rheumatologists must order tests to rule out rheumatoid arthritis.

How is Lupus diagnosed?

Lupus is difficult to diagnose and can take an average of six years from the onset of symptoms to diagnosis. Your Ortho Illinois Rheumatologist will review your medical history, ask about your family history of autoimmune diseases, ask about your symptoms, look for the common butterfly rash, and conduct a thorough physical examination.

A diagnostic blood test called the antinuclear antibody test (ANA) tests whether your immune system is making autoantibodies which attack your own tissues. 95% of lupus patients test positive for ANA. Other tests will focus on identifying possible organ involvement including damage in the kidneys, lungs, heart, blood vessels and nervous system, and other causes for your symptoms. 

What are the treatments for lupus?

The goal of treatment is to treat symptoms to reduce pain and swelling, reduce and prevent bone and joint damage, and prevent or reduce organ damage. No two patients are treated the same.

Treatment commonly involves the use of over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, antimalarial drugs, and immune suppression drugs (chemotherapy) may be used in severe cases. Lupus causes or creates a risk of other illnesses including high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and blood clots. These conditions are treated with specific medications which often have their own side effects.  Some drugs used to treat lupus can cause muscle weakness and require a change of medications.

When the muscles are inflamed, called lupus myositis, a supervised program of physical therapy can help you regain normal muscle function and strength.

How can lupus affect your daily life?

According to the Lupus Association (

  • 65% of lupus patients say chronic pain is the most difficult part of having lupus.
  • 76% say fatigue takes a toll on their social activities.
  • 89% say they can no long work full time due to complications of lupus.

How to cope?

If you suffer with light sensitivity, you should stay out of the sun to reduce the risk of a flareup of symptoms. Some medications can trigger symptoms, discuss your prescriptions with your rheumatologist. Some foods can worsen symptoms. Smoking and alcohol can trigger flares.

Lupus is a complex disease. When you are diagnosed with lupus your Ortho Illinois rheumatologist will develop a treatment plan tailored to your specific symptoms and their severity.

Contact Ortho Illinois to schedule a consultation. For your convenience, we have rheumatologists at our Riverside Office in Rockford.