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Severe Joint and Muscle Pain – Arthritis


Updated May 09, 2014

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 – those 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 encounter it. The main reason: inflammation of the joints, or arthritis.

Lupus Arthritis:

One of the first indications that your joint pain might be arthritis is the location of the pain. Is it in the joints farthest from your chest and torso: your fingers, toes, wrists and ankles? These are the most common joints affected by arthritis.

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

Another telltale sign is timing of pain. Normally it arrives in the morning, disappears for some time, and then makes its return later in the evening.

What the 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 show, 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:

The good news: It’s treatable. And 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, damage to your joints, and help you lead a normal life.

Lupus arthritis is normally treated with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (including aspirin and ibuprofen).

If those medications do not work, the doctor may prescribe antimalarial agents such as hydroxychloroquine. And 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 by far not the only treatment. Medication along with physical and occupational therapy rounds out an effective plan – and will help those with lupus live more fruitful lives.

Not All Joint Pain is Arthritis:

Though you may have what you think is arthritis, joint pain can be the signal to 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


“Joint and Muscle Pain” Lupus Foundation of America. Collected June 2007

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