Signs and Symptoms of Lupus

Lupus is a mysterious disease, one with a multitude of smaller signs and symptoms—fatigue, achy joints, hair loss, headaches, and more—that are often overlooked or misinterpreted as harbingers of a different disease, leading to misdiagnosis. But when one of the most common symptoms is accompanied by a more suggestive sign or complication, lupus starts to become clear.

lupus symptoms
Verywell / Joshua Seong

Frequent Symptoms

Though symptoms can come and go and manifest differently in every individual, the most common symptoms of lupus include:

  • Achy joints with stiffness and swelling
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Unexplained rashes that may turn to sores or lesions, then scar
  • Butterfly (malar) rash across nose and cheeks
  • Anemia
  • Hair loss
  • Pleurisy (pain in your chest with deep breathing)
  • Ulcers inside your mouth and nose
  • Photosensitivity (being sensitive to the sun or light, which may cause or worsen rashes)
  • Headaches
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Abnormal blood clotting
  • Raynaud's disease (your fingers turn blue or white when they're cold)

Here's a look at these symptoms in more detail, as well as the systems in the body they affect.

Lupus manifests differently in every person with the disease. The symptoms you have may be chronic or come and go.

Dermatological Symptoms

If you have lupus, you may notice various lesions or rashes developing on your skin. These abnormal skin areas signal what's called skin or cutaneous lupus.

Chronic cutaneous (discoid lupus), subacute cutaneous (scaly patches with distinct borders occurring on sun-exposed areas, but less on the face), and acute cutaneous (flattened areas of red, like a sunburn, on the face) are the three types of skin lupus.

Mucosal ulcers in your nose or mouth are another common complaint accompanying lupus. Like other symptoms, the ulcers can come and go as the disease flares.

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Chronic discoid lupus erythematosus
Cutaneous lupus symptoms. DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND 

Renal (Kidney) Symptoms

You may have no indication of kidney problems, but some related symptoms are weight gain, high blood pressure, and swelling in your face, legs, and/or fingers.

Cardiopulmonary (Heart and Lung) Symptoms

Cardiopulmonary symptoms can include shortness of breath and pain in your chest when you take a deep breath.

Musculoskeletal Symptoms

Joint pain and swelling are primary symptoms of lupus that appear in more than 90 percent of people with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), usually occurring in connective joints such as your elbows, wrists, knees, and ankles. Lupus joint pain also tends to occur on both sides of the body at once, for example in both knees, or both ankles.

Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, lupus joint pain is less disabling and usually not deforming to the hands and feet.

Hematological Symptoms

Three blood disorders commonly found in lupus patients include:

  1. Anemia (low red blood cell count): This can be caused by inflammation, kidney disorders, or as a side effect of lupus medications.
  2. Thrombosis (excess clotting): This can lead to clots traveling to the lungs, heart, or brain.
  3. Leukopenia (low white blood cell count): This occurs in around 50 percent of lupus patients and usually indicates that the disease is active.

Other blood disorders that can appear with lupus include:

  • Lymphopenia (low level of specific white blood cells)
  • Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count)

Less Common Symptoms

Other less common symptoms of lupus include:

  • Dizziness
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Seizures


Complications from the inflammation lupus causes can affect any number of areas in your body, including your skin, heart, lungs, kidneys, blood, and brain.

Lupus may raise your risk of developing other health problems.


There are skin diseases and complications that can occur in lupus and in other autoimmune diseases. These include:

  • Hair loss
  • Calcinosis (calcium deposits on the skin)
  • Livedo reticularis (a red, network-like pattern in the skin caused by congested blood vessels)

Heart and Lungs

There are several inflammatory heart and lung issues that can affect lupus patients. By far, the most common include:

  • Inflammation of the lining of the heart (pericarditis)
  • Inflammation of the lining of the lung (pleuritis)

Less common complications include:

  • Inflammation of heart tissue (myocarditis)
  • Inflammation of the blood vessels in the heart (coronary vasculitis)
  • Inflammation of the lung itself (pneumonitis)


Inflammation of the kidneys in lupus patients is called lupus nephritis. Lupus nephritis can lead to kidney failure in some people and is a serious, initially silent, complication affecting lupus patients.

If you are diagnosed with kidney inflammation your healthcare provider may give you medication to suppress your immune system and lower your blood pressure or advise you to make changes to your diet and lifestyle.


As noted above, lupus can lead to anemia and blood clotting problems, but it can also cause inflammation in the lining of your blood vessels, called vasculitis. This appears as red bumps or spots on your lower legs.


Lupus can affect your central nervous system, leading to memory problems, difficulty expressing yourself, and confusion. Other potential effects are headaches, problems with your vision, behavior changes, dizziness, psychosis, and even seizures or stroke.


Because lupus is an autoimmune disorder, you're more susceptible to pick up infections and have complications from them due to both the disorder and the treatments for it.

People with lupus are more at risk for respiratory, skin, and urinary tract infections.


When part of a bone's blood supply is cut off, that area of the bone dies and eventually collapses (avascular necrosis). This an osteoporosis, a disease in which your bones become weak and brittle, can be complications of lupus therapy.


The risk is small, but having lupus may increase your chance of developing certain cancers.


If you get pregnant while you have lupus, you're more likely to have a miscarriage, high blood pressure during your pregnancy, and pre-term birth. Having your disease under control before you get pregnant helps reduce this risk.

If you have lupus, talk to your healthcare provider before trying to get pregnant.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You should see your healthcare provider if you think you have symptoms of lupus, particularly unexplained fatigue, unexplained joint pain, and skin rashes. You should also see your practitioner if you experience any of these symptoms, even if you have already been diagnosed with lupus:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Less frequent urination and/or smaller amounts than normal
  • Blood in your urine
  • Fever over 100.5 degrees without recent exposure to a cold or the flu
  • Numbness or tingling in your hands or feet
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Swelling in your lower legs or feet
  • Noticeable behavioral changes, like anxiety or depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of hair
  • Skin rashes
  • New mouth or nose sores
  • Any worsening of previously known symptoms

Lupus Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Woman

When to Call 911

Whether or not you've been diagnosed with lupus, you also need to be aware of when the best course of action is to call 911 or visit an emergency room. These symptoms include the following:

  • Crushing chest pain accompanied by sweating or nausea
  • Sudden shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
    Signs of stroke
    , including :​
    Numbness, tingling, weakness, or paralysis of all or part of one side of your body
  • Sudden vision changes—blurring, double vision, etc.
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  • Sudden nausea or vomiting
  • Sudden, severe headache, different from previous headaches
  • Sudden dizziness, staggering, or fainting

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the 11 symptoms of lupus?

    Previous criteria for diagnosing lupus required a patient to have at least four of the following 11 symptoms: 

    • A butterfly-shaped rash over the cheeks and nose, known as a malar rash
    • A rash that appears as red, raised, disk-shaped patches, known as a discoid rash
    • A reaction to sun or light that causes a rash to appear or worsen, also known as photosensitivity
    • Sores in the mouth 
    • Joint pain and swelling of two or more joints without accompanying bone damage
    • Inflammation of the lining of the heart (pericarditis) or lungs (pleuritis), also known as serositis
    • Kidney disorders involving persistent protein or cellular casts in urine samples
    • Neurological disorders including seizures or psychosis
    • Blood disorders including anemia, leukopenia, lymphopenia, or thrombopenia
    • Immunologic disorders with anti-DNA or anti-SM positive antiphospholipid antibodies
    • Abnormal antinuclear antibody (ANA) results
  • How does lupus make you feel?

    Tired and achy. The most common symptoms of lupus are fatigue, headaches, and joint pain. Lupus can also cause heart and lung problems that can compound fatigue.

  • Does lupus cause your face to swell?

    Yes, one of the symptoms of lupus is facial swelling. This is in addition to a butterfly-shaped rash over the cheeks and nose. Lupus can cause swelling in the cheeks and around the eyes. Spending time in the sun can exacerbate both the rash and swelling. 

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Common symptoms of lupus. Lupus Foundation of America.

  2. Cojocaru M, Cojocaru IM, Silosi I, Vrabie CD. Manifestations of systemic lupus erythematosus. Maedica (Buchar).

  3. Fayyaz A, Igoe A, Kurien BT, et al. Haematological manifestations of lupus. Lupus Sci Med. 2015;2(1):e000078. doi:10.1136/lupus-2014-000078

  4. How lupus affects the skin. Lupus Foundation of America.

  5. Dein E, Douglas H, Petri M, Law G, Timlin H. Pericarditis in Lupus. Cureus. 2019;11(3):e4166. doi:10.7759/cureus.4166

  6. Muscal E, Brey RL. Neurologic manifestations of systemic lupus erythematosus in children and adults. Neurol Clin. 2010;28(1):61-73. doi:10.1016/j.ncl.2009.09.004

  7. Lateef A, Petri M. Managing lupus patients during pregnancy. Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2013;27(3):435-47. doi:10.1016/j.berh.2013.07.005

  8. Lupus Foundation of America. What doctors look for to confirm a diagnosis.

  9. García-Arpa M, Rodríguez-Vázquez M, Bellido-Pastrana D, Villasanti-Rivas N, Carmona-Rodríguez M. Persistent facial oedema and erythema in a woman, an uncommon manifestation of chronic lupus erythematosusEJCRIM. 2020;7. doi:10.12890/2020_001462

Additional Reading

By Jeri Jewett-Tennant, MPH
Jeri Jewett-Tennant, MPH, is a medical writer and program development manager at the Center for Reducing Health Disparities.