Both rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and lupus are categorized into autoimmune disorders. This means that they are closely related to problems with the immune system. Interestingly, some signs and symptoms of RA can be found in people with lupus, too. So, what are the differences?
Like most things in autoimmune disease, the immune system in people with lupus acts abnormally and attacks the wrong targets (such as healthy cells, tissues, or organs). Unluckily, the reason of how this abnormal condition occurs is unclear yet.
There are several forms of this autoimmune disease. But today, the term ‘lupus’ is usually pointed to a condition called SLE (systemic lupus erythematosus), the most common type.
The abnormality of immune system in people with lupus can cause damage to the joint, blood vessels, skin, and other organs. The inflammation (especially for SLE) could be systemic, which means it could affect many parts of the body.
Another bad news, it’s not easy to diagnose lupus. Even there is no single test that can be accurate enough to detect it. Typically, the diagnosis is made with the use of combination of several tests – from a blood test, liver or/and kidneys assessment, urinalysis, to imaging tests.
Furthermore, each case of lupus is unique (no two people with this disease are exactly alike). Its signs and symptoms can vary, too.
While the cause is still debatable and not fully understood yet, experts have confirmed that the following factors may increase the risk of developing lupus:
- Age! Although it can attack people of all ages, but typically it is found at the ages between 15 and 40 years old.
- It is found more often in women than in men.
- It occurs more often in Hispanics, Africans, and Asians.
There may be a combination of both genetic and environmental factors to cause this inflammatory disease. People who are genetically predisposed to lupus may start to develop it when they get exposed to a specific environmental trigger, this may include:
- Infection! Getting exposed to certain infection may trigger lupus in some people. In those who already have lupus, an infection may cause a relapse.
- The use of certain medications such as some antibiotics, medications for hypertension (high blood pressure), or some kinds of anti-seizure medicines. If the disease does have a link with these medicines, it usually improves when you stop taking medicine.
- In susceptible person, exposure to the sun may trigger the development of lupus skin lesions.
It’s important to control the inflammation of this disease. Poorly-controlled lupus can pose the risk of many complications. These may include:
- Kidneys damage or even kidneys failure. This complication is the top leading cause of death in people with lupus.
- Other complications; problems of lungs, heart, blood (such as anemia), and blood vessels (like vasculitis). Problems of brain and central nervous system are also pretty common – these include headaches, changes in behavior, or memory problems. Even in a few cases, lupus could cause seizures or even stroke.
- Other kinds of complications; recurrent infections, the risk of pregnancy complications, or even the occurrence of cancer.
Like lupus, RA is also an autoimmune disease. It can be systemic and affect lots of parts of the body. But it primarily affects the joint, that’s why it is one of arthritis forms.
The most common form of arthritis is not RA, but OA (osteoarthritis). And it is also not easy to distinguish between RA and OA. However there are some differences, see more in here!
There is currently not cure for RA. It is not preventable, too – so far, there is no clearly guidance to prevent it. And again like in lupus, RA is also not fully understood yet.
The good news, some modern treatments for RA are available. It is incurable, but with appropriate treatment it can be treated and controlled. For more information about the treatments (especially for home remedies and lifestyle approaches to treat RA), see this section!
Out of control of RA inflammation can be serious or even may lead to death (see also death rate in people with RA). The common complications include heart problems, lung diseases, hypertension, eye problems, osteoporosis, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Some tests and procedures to help diagnose RA could be used in diagnosing lupus or other rheumatic conditions.
The symptoms examination is essential, but this is usually not enough to make diagnosis – even both RA and lupus symptoms often overlap with those of other rheumatic conditions.
The following table may help distinguish between the symptoms of lupus vs. RA: