Symptoms & Diagnosis

Each person with lupus has different symptoms that can range from mild to severe and may come and go over time. Periods of illness are called flares, while periods of wellness are known as a state of remission. New symptoms may continue to appear years after the initial diagnosis, and different symptoms can occur at different times. Understanding how to prevent flares and how to treat them when they do occur helps people with lupus maintain better health.

In some people with lupus, only one system of the body, such as the skin or joints, is affected. Other people experience symptoms in many parts of their body. Just how seriously a body system is affected varies from person to person.

Common Symptoms

  • Painful or swollen joints and muscle pain
  • Unexplained fever
  • Red rashes, most commonly on the face
  • Chest pain upon deep breathing
  • Unusual loss of hair
  • Pale or purple fingers or toes from cold or stress (Raynaud’s phenomenon)
  • Sensitivity to the sun
  • Swelling (edema) in legs or around eyes
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Swollen glands
  • Extreme fatigue


Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are usually not present all the time. As a result, a diagnosis may take months or even years. When the symptoms are present, they can mimic other diseases, resulting in misdiagnosis. The process of diagnosis requires a patient’s entire medical history, details on the frequency and severity of symptoms and an analysis of lab test results.

In the process of diagnosing lupus, doctors use the American College of Rheumatology’s “Eleven Criteria of Lupus.” Typically, four or more of the following criteria needs to be present to make a lupus diagnosis:

  1. Butterfly-shaped rash across cheeks and nose (also known as a malar rash)
  2. Scaly disk-shaped rash on face, neck, ears, scalp, chest
  3. Sun sensitivity
  4. Mouth sores, tongue sores, inner-nose sores
  5. Arthritis pain in joints
  6. Pain in chest and side when breathing or moving
  7. Kidney problems
  8. Neurological problems
  9. Blood problems, such as anemia, low white blood cell count, or low platelet count
  10. Immunologic disorder
  11. Antinuclear antibodies (ANA) test

If you think you may have lupus, please contact your physician. Only medical professionals can provide a lupus diagnosis.