7 Symptoms Of Lupus That Often Go Under The Radar

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The moment you notice a tiny rash on your arm or an ache where there didn't used to be one, it's easy to fall head first down the rabbit hole of googling your symptoms. Is it something serious, or are you just in the beginning stages of a cold? When it comes to watching out for your health, it's helpful to know what to look for. According to experts, these under-the-radar symptoms of lupus might not immediately point to the disease.

In case you're not familiar with what lupus is, here's a primer. "Lupus, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus, is a disease in which one's own immune system attacks parts of one's body," Chirag Shah, MD, a board-certified emergency medicine physician and medical reviewer at PollMed, tells Bustle. This can lead to a variety of symptoms. "While there is no absolutely definitive test for lupus, most people with lupus will test positive on an anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) lab test," he says, so reach out to your doctor if you are concerned. If your diagnosis is confirmed, you might be treated with medications that will calm your immune system, such as steriods and anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), says Dr. Shah. The earlier you can be evaluated the better, so don't hold off getting checked out if you notice a number of symptoms.

Here are some lupus symptoms to watch out for, according to experts.

1. Joint Problems

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When you first step out of bed in the morning, a couple of aches and pains are pretty common, especially since you've been laying still for a number of hours. But aches that stick around probably aren't so innocuous. One more subtle symptom of lupus is joint pain, stiffness, or swelling, Ashley Wood, RN, BSN, tells Bustle. While there many causes of joint pain, it's always a good idea to see your doctor of it's persistent.

2. Fatigue

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If you're struggling with lupus, you might be much more tired than usual, Caleb Backe, medical expert for Maple Holistics and a certified personal trainer, tells Bustle. "This symptom alone isn’t enough to get diagnosed with lupus but it definitely is a contributing factor," he says. Since fatigue can also be associated with many other health problems (or even not sleeping enough), it can often be overlooked, but pay extra close attention if you notice this symptom as well as another on this list.

3. Unexplained Headaches

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If you recently gave up your die-hard coffee habit, having a headache might not be something to worry about. A number of headaches with no explained cause is a different story, and could be linked to a number of issues, including a lupus diagnosis. "If you get [headaches] a lot and there’s no clear source of the problem, then you should definitely see your doctor," says Backe.

4. Skin Issues

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Watching a rash pop up can be pretty alarming, as it can often be due to an allergic reaction, so if it's combined with trouble breathing or swallowing, you should definitely seek medical assistance right away. But a facial rash, rashes on your body, or skin lesions that appear or worsen with sun exposure, could all point to lupus, says Wood.

5. Mouth Ulcers

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"You may think that ulcers in your mouth are an isolated issue that just requires a trip to the dentist or dermatologist," says Backe, "but they can be a part of something much bigger." In fact, mouth sores actually occur in 40 to 50 percent of lupus patients, he says, so pay attention if you start to notice them, especially if you've never had ulcers before.

6. Unusual Reactions In Your Extremities

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When you think of diagnosing an immune disease like lupus, you probably don't immediately think about looking at your fingers and toes. But Wood says that this is exactly one of the places where you should look. If your fingers or toes turn white or blue when exposed to cold or when you’re under stress, she says that this could point to lupus.

7. Photosensitivity

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If you have lupus, you might experience photosensitivity, which basically means an immune reaction that is triggered by the sun. "With regards to photosensitivity and rashes, prevention through appropriate sun protection is key," Sarika Ramachandran, MD, a Yale Medicine dermatologist and medical director of Yale Medicine Dermatology, tells Bustle. "Avoiding spending time when the sun is at its strongest (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) is beneficial in patients with lupus who have photosensitivity," she says. Plus, always wearing plenty of sunscreen when you're going to be outdoors is a great rule of thumb.

Until you speak with an actual doctor, don't assume you have lupus just because you have a headache and your knee hurts. But don't ignore your body's signs either.