What You Need to Know About Lupus and Joint Pain

Severe muscle or joint pain may indicate lupus-related arthritis

doctor examining woman's hand for arthritis joint pain
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Since lupus is, in many ways, a disease of symptoms, there are several related conditions such as severe joint and muscle pain (commonly called lupus arthritis) people with lupus should be familiar with.

In fact, joint and muscle pain is possibly the most common symptom, and complaint, of those with lupus. Nearly half of those first diagnosed with the disease attribute joint pain to one of the symptoms, and more than 90 percent of those with lupus will experience inflammation of the joints or arthritis.

What is Lupus Arthritis? 

One of the first indications that your joint pain might be caused by arthritis is the location of the pain. Pain in the joints of your extremities, your fingers, toes, wrists, and ankles,  are the most common joints affected by arthritis.

Also common, a mirror effect, in which the joints on the opposite side of your body also feel stiff, swollen, tender, and warm. In other words, if your fingers hurt on your left hand, the probably hurt on the right as well.

When your pain occurs can also indicate arthritic pain. Normally pain begins in the morning, disappears for some time, and then makes its return later in the evening.

What Your Doctor will Look For

If you haven’t been diagnosed with lupus, joint pain may be one of the first signs that you have the disease. The doctor will look for other signs and symptoms before ruling out or confirming that you have lupus.

If joint pain is the only symptom you have, determining whether lupus is present can be a difficult task. Your doctor may want to perform a number of tests over a set time period before she makes a diagnosis.

In terms of your joint pain, the doctor will chart the distribution of the inflamed joints, taking X-rays, and removing fluid from one joint to see if it unveils a low-grade inflammation. This will help determine the cause of the joint pain.

Treating Lupus Arthritis

Arthritis-related to lupus is treatable. Like all lupus symptoms, as long as you follow your doctor’s orders and your treatment plan, you should be able to effectively deal with lupus arthritis pain as well as any damage to your joints. 

Lupus arthritis is normally treated with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. These may include aspirin and ibuprofen or a prescription medication. 

If those medications do not work, the doctor may prescribe antimalarial agents such as hydroxychloroquine. Corticosteroids are used when the joints remain swollen and painful despite other treatment.

Medication plays an integral part in treating lupus arthritis, but it is not the only treatment. A comprehensive treatment plan will include medication along with physical and occupational therapy.

Ruling Out Other Conditions

Though you may have what you think is arthritis, joint pain can be a sign of a variety of other diseases. Before diagnosing your pain as lupus arthritis, your physician will most likely rule out these other conditions:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Avascular necrosis of bone
  • Bursitis and tendonitis
  • Other types of arthritis
  • Infection
  • Myositis

If you have joint pain, make an appointment with your doctor to determine the cause or rule out other conditions. 

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View Article Sources
  • “Joint and Muscle Pain” Lupus Foundation of America.