Lupus | Complications


How does lupus affect parts of the body?

Your kidneys get rid of waste and other toxins from the body. Lupus can affect the kidneys and cause inflammation (swelling) of the structures that filter the blood. Without treatment, lupus can lead to permanent kidney damage. If lupus affects your kidneys you will probably need medicine to prevent serious damage. The most common symptom of kidney problems from lupus is swelling in the feet, legs, hands and eyelids.

Lupus can cause inflammation of the sac around the heart, and you may experience chest pains. Not as commonly, but more seriously, lupus can cause hardening of the walls of the coronary arteries, which can lead to angina and an increased risk of coronary artery disease. Lupus may also cause inflammation of the heart itself, which can lead to scarring and possible heart failure.

Problems in the lungs can also cause chest pains, which are often felt with deep breathing. The pain is caused by inflammation of the lining that covers the lungs. People who have lupus may also be more likely to get pneumonia.

Most people who have lupus have joint pain or swelling from inflammation. The pain and swelling can come and go, and may affect several joints at once. However, there is usually no long-term damage.

People who have lupus often get a butterfly-shaped, red rash across the nose and cheeks. This kind of rash is called a malar rash. Other parts of the skin may be affected by raised bumps or patchiness, often on areas that are exposed to the sun. You may get sores inside your mouth and nose. Hair loss (alopecia) is common during flares. You may also notice a blotchy purple color on the tips of your fingers, knuckles, the sides of the palms, around the fingernails and on your toes. This happens because blood does not flow well to the skin’s surface, causing it to change color Raynaud’s Disease.

Central Nervous System
Lupus may also affect the brain and the nerves in the spinal cord. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, mild confusion or memory problems, vision problems and changes in your mood. It can also lead to more serious problems, such as seizures or a stroke.

Lupus can cause the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets to decrease. Fewer red blood cells can lead to anemia, which is common in people who have lupus. White blood cells help the body fight infection, but lupus rarely causes them to be low enough to cause infection. Platelets help your blood to clot. A low platelet count can lead to easy bruising, nosebleeds and other bleeding. Lupus can also cause your blood to clot too easily. Sometimes, in people who have lupus, blood clots form where they are not needed or where they shouldn’t. If the blood clot breaks away and travels through the bloodstream, it can block blood vessels and cause serious problems, such as a stroke, blood clots in the lungs (thrombosis) or repeated miscarriages.

What is it like living with lupus?

When you are first diagnosed with lupus, you may have feelings of relief, that you finally have an answer to what is causing your symptoms. As you learn about the disease, you may also have feelings of confusion, sadness, fear, frustration and anger. Some people who have lupus may have bouts of depression because of the challenges of living with this disease. Learning all you can about your illness can help you cope better with your symptoms, flares and any serious health problems lupus may cause.

Written by editorial staff.

American Academy of Family Physicians

Created: 04/10