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Lupus - Symptoms of lupus

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) can vary from person to person. Some people with the condition may only experience a few mild symptoms, whereas others may be more severely affected.

The symptoms of SLE can also appear in 'flare-ups'. This means although you may always have mild symptoms, during a flare-up your symptoms may become more severe or new features may appear. 

Primary symptoms

The three primary symptoms of SLE are:

  • fatigue
  • joint pain
  • skin rashes

These are described in more detail below.


Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of SLE. You may feel very tired even though you get plenty of sleep. Carrying out everyday tasks, such as household chores or office work, can leave you feeling exhausted.

Many people with SLE have reported that fatigue is the most distressing and disruptive aspect of SLE because it has a negative impact on their work and social life.

Joint pain

If you have SLE, you are most likely to experience joint pain in your hands and feet. You may find the pain changes from one set of joints to another quite quickly. However, unlike some other conditions that affect the joints, SLE is unlikely to cause your joints to become permanently damaged or deformed.

Skin rashes

In people with SLE, skin rashes most commonly develop on the face, wrists and hands. A rash over the cheeks and the bridge of the nose is particularly common and is known as a 'butterfly rash'. Skin rashes caused by SLE may be permanent and can be made worse by exposure to sunlight. This is known as photosensitivity.

Other symptoms

As well as the primary symptoms listed above, SLE can also cause other symptoms. However, it is unlikely you will have all of the symptoms listed below, and many people with the condition will only experience primary symptoms.

Other features of SLE may include:

  • high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • swollen lymph glands (small, bean-shaped glands found throughout your body, including your neck, armpits and groin)
  • recurring mouth ulcers
  • hair loss (alopecia)
  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • depression 
  • dry eyes
  • memory loss
  • headaches and migraine 
  • shortness of breath due to lung inflammation, heart involvement or anaemia - a condition where a lack of red, oxygen-carrying blood cells can cause fatigue and shortness of breath
  • Raynaud's phenomenon - a condition that limits the blood supply to your hands and feet when it is cold
  • ankle swelling and fluid retention (oedema)
Medical Review: June 27, 2012
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