Lupus vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis: How Are They Different?

Lupus vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis: How Are They Different?

Although lupus is not considered a form of arthritis, it includes arthritis as one of its main symptoms, so it’s no wonder people get confused between the two. Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are both autoimmune diseases in which the body’s immune system attacks its own cells and causes inflammation and pain. Since the two conditions share similar symptoms, differentiating and diagnosing them can be quite challenging. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, approximately 1.5 million U.S. adults are living with lupus. Estimating how many people have RA is difficult, given there’s no one specific imaging or blood test to confirm the presence of RA.

Impact of Lupus & RA

Lupus can potentially harm any organ in the body, while RA mainly affects the joints. Both can be painful and cause severe damage. In severe lupus cases, the brain may be affected and can cause a great deal of memory loss, fogginess, confusion, and even a stroke. In severe RA cases, if joint inflammation worsens despite treatment, it will be hard to maintain range of motion and mobility.

Symptoms of Lupus

Both men and women can have lupus; however, 90% of individuals diagnosed are women, and women ages 14 to 45 are most often affected. Symptoms of lupus can appear suddenly or slowly, and mild or severe. When it causes damage to your joints, the symptoms can mimic those of RA but are not as severe. For example, pain, stiffness, and swelling. Additionally, it can affect other parts of the body such as the heart, brain, kidney, blood, and skin.

The most common symptoms of lupus are:

  • Skin rashes
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Weight loss

Symptoms of RA

Symptoms of RA can sometimes trigger slowly, and you won’t be able to tell that anything is wrong. In the early phases, it’s common to notice minor symptoms, usually on both sides of the body, that progresses over time. Near the end stage of RA, joints may stop functioning and pain is worsened.

A few classic symptoms of RA include:

  • Inflammation and swelling in more than one joint
  • Deformed joints
  • Joint stiffness, making it harder to move, especially in the morning

Treatment Options for Lupus & RA

Even though there is no definitive cure for lupus, managing your symptoms with a physical therapist can control the pain immensely. Since lupus and RA share similar symptoms, it’s no surprise that some of the same treatment strategies work well for both. It’s also possible for someone to have an overlap of both autoimmune diseases, which is the presence of multiple diseases that are independent of one another, called comorbidity. As soon as you notice worsening symptoms in the early stages of your condition, it’s recommended to seek a treatment to reduce organ damage and joint pain.

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