Doctor and patient talking through Lupus and Rhuematoid Arthritis

Both lupus and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are autoimmune disorders in which the body’s immune system attacks its own cells and causes pain and inflammation.1,2,3 These conditions are sometimes confused with one another because the symptoms can be somewhat similar.

Lupus can affect nearly any organ system, while RA is considered to be a condition of the joints.2,3 But many people have overlaps in symptoms, which means that specialized tests are needed to diagnose the precise condition causing them.

Here is some information about the similarities and differences between lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and how to develop an effective treatment plan for each condition.

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Symptoms of Lupus

The autoimmune disease of lupus attacks the joints and many internal other organs too, such as the heart and lungs.3 A common sign of lupus is a rash on the face and elsewhere on the body. These rashes tend to worsen with sun exposure. Other possible symptoms of lupus include joint pain, hair loss, mouth sores, shortness of breath, and blood in the urine. Muscle weakness, bodily inflammation, and seizures may also occur in lupus patients.4

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

The most common symptom of RA is stiffness in the joints in the morning.3,5 The most common joints affected by this condition are the hands and feet, but other joints are frequently affected as well. People with RA often develop anemia and experience fatigue as a result.3,6 People with RA may also experience inflammation around the heart and in the lungs.3

The Impact of Both Conditions on the Joints

Both of these conditions can be challenging to diagnose, especially if the condition is caught early and when symptoms are relatively minor.7,8 Both lupus and RA are painful and cause damage to the joints.2,3 However, the type of arthritis that is most closely associated with lupus typically causes less joint damage than RA.9 People with RA are more likely than those with lupus to require surgery for severe joint damage.

Treatment Plans for Lupus and RA

Something interesting to know about lupus and RA is that there is a genetic connection between the two conditions. People with a STAT4 gene that is mutated are more susceptible to developing both of these conditions. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine revealed that people who carry this mutated gene have double the normal risk of developing lupus and a 60 percent heightened the risk of developing RA.10

Therefore, some of the same treatment strategies for one autoimmune condition may work well for the other one as well. It is also possible for an individual to have both lupus and RA at the same time. This is called comorbidity, which is the existence of multiple diseases that are independent of one another.11   Certain treatment plans can help reduce joint pain and organ damage for both conditions and also in the early stages of one disease in which the diagnosis is not yet clear.

Although there is no definitive cure for lupus, it is possible to manage the symptoms by taking medications to control joint pain and inflammation.3 Cortisone shots may help control inflammation as well. Individuals joint pain caused by both lupus and RA can benefit from using topical pain relieving creams, like JointFlex, to deliver onsite treatment where joints hurt the most. There are significant benefits to treating comorbidity conditions like lupus and RA simultaneously to reduce drug interactions and potential side effects.

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REFERENCES for LUPUS and RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS

1. Autoimmune disease list. The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. Retrieved October 22, 2018 from https://www.aarda.org/diseaselist/.
2. Kontzias, A. (2017 July). Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). The Merck Manual: Consumer Version. Retrieved October 19, 2018 from https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/bone,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders/joint-disorders/rheumatoid-arthritis-ra.
3. Nevares, A. M. & Larner, R. (2018 April). Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The Merck Manual: Consumer Version. Retrieved October 22, 2018 from https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/bone,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders/autoimmune-disorders-of-connective-tissue/systemic-lupus-erythematosus-sle.
4. How lupus affects the nervous system. The National Resource Center on Lupus. Retrieved October 22, 2018 from https://resources.lupus.org/entry/nervous-system.
5. Scott, J. T. (1960). Morning Stiffness in Rheumatoid Arthritis. Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, 19, 361-368. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from https://ard.bmj.com/content/annrheumdis/19/4/361.full.pdf.
6. Anemia of inflammation or chronic disease: What is anemia of inflammation? The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Retrieved October 22, 2018 from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/blood-diseases/anemia-inflammation-chronic-disease#chronic.
7. Lupus diagnosis. Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved October 22, 2018 from https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/lupus/diagnosing.php.
8. Suresh, E. (2004 September). Diagnosis of early rheumatoid arthritis: what the non-specialist needs to know. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 97, 421-424. Retrieved October 22, 2018 from National Center of Biotechnology Information https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1079582/.
9. Quismorico, F. P. How lupus affects the muscles, tendons and joints. The National Resource Center on Lupus. Retrieved October 22, 2018 from https://resources.lupus.org/entry/joints-muscle-pain-in-lupus.
10. Remmers, E. F., Plenge, R. M., Lee, A. T., Graham, R. R., Hom, G., Behrens, T. W., & De Bakker, P. I. W. (2007 September). STAT4 and the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus. New England Journal of Medicine, 357, 977-986. Retrieved October 22, 2018 from National Center of Biotechnology Information https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2630215/.
11. Comorbidities. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 22, 2018 from https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/data_statistics/comorbidities.htm.

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