Lupus Symptoms in Women

What You Need to Know

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can cause pain and inflammation in all parts of the body.1 While men can develop the disease, it is much more common in women. In fact, 90% of all diagnosed cases occur in females.2 But it can be hard to diagnose, as lupus symptoms in women can vary widely from person to person.3
Lupus symptoms in women.

Signs of Lupus in Women

As an autoimmune disease, lupus causes your immune system to mistake healthy cells and tissues for viruses, bacteria and other germs. As a result, the immune system attacks and destroys these healthy cells. Lupus can affect any part of your body but most commonly damages the skin, joints, heart and kidneys.2

Symptoms of lupus in women can mimic symptoms of other diseases, which can make it difficult to diagnose. In addition, not everyone experiences the same symptoms.3

Some signs of lupus include:

  • Chest pain when breathing deeply
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Muscle pain
  • Purple or pale fingers and toes due to cold or stress
  • Sensitivity to sunlight and/or other light
  • Skin rashes, most commonly a butterfly rash on the cheeks and bridge of the nose
  • Sores in the nose or mouth
  • Unexplained fever

Lupus is a chronic, lifelong condition. However, symptoms can flare, or come and go. A lupus flare can be mild or severe, and new symptoms can occur at any time.1–3

If you suspect you might have lupus, talk to your doctor about getting the AVISE® CTD lupus test. This advanced diagnostic blood test can provide more detailed diagnostic information than traditional lab tests and assist your doctor in making an accurate diagnosis.

Types of Lupus

There are four main types of lupus.1 These include:

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). This is the most common form of lupus. While it can be mild or severe, it is considered the most serious form of the disease, as it can affect any part of the body. SLE can be life-threatening and requires specialized care.4, 5

Cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE). This is a skin disease that can affect people with or without SLE. There are two major forms of CLE2: Discoid lupus erythematosus causes a raised red rash, usually on the face or scalp, that becomes scaly or dark brown. The rash can lead to scarring. Subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus causes lupus skin lesions after sun exposure.

Drug-induced lupus. This is a less serious form of the disease triggered by taking certain medications, such as those used for high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and seizures. Symptoms of drug-induced lupus are usually less severe, and in most cases, the disease resolves after the medication is stopped.2

Neonatal lupus. This is a rare condition that can happen in infants, occurring when a woman with lupus passes on certain antibodies to her baby. However, most women with lupus have healthy babies. Symptoms of neonatal lupus often disappear within several months.2,3

Risk Factors for Lupus

The causes of lupus remain largely unknown. Researchers believe that genes play an important role, but people carrying the related genes only have a small chance of developing the disease. Other possible causes include problems with the immune system; environmental factors, such as sun exposure, stress, smoking and certain viruses; and hormones, such as estrogen.2

About 90% of people diagnosed with lupus are women of childbearing age (ages 15–44). In addition, Black women are three times more likely to develop lupus than white women. Hispanic, Asian, Native American and Alaska Native women are also at higher risk.2

Black and Hispanic women often get lupus at younger ages and have more serious symptoms than women in other groups. Black women are also more likely to have seizures, strokes and dangerous heart inflammation, while Hispanic women are at higher risk for heart problems. Although researchers are still trying to understand these differences, they believe genes play a role.2

Complications of Lupus

Lupus can lead to other serious health conditions.2 These include:

Heart disease. Lupus can cause inflammation in the heart, raising the risk for coronary artery disease, the most common form of heart disease. People with lupus often have additional heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, and fatigue can lead to a lack of physical activity further increasing the disease’s impact on heart health. One study found that women with lupus were 50 times more likely to have chest pain or a heart attack than women of the same age without lupus.2

Kidney disease. More than 50% of people diagnosed with lupus have kidney problems, also called lupus nephritis. Because kidney inflammation doesn’t always cause symptoms, many people don’t know they have it. People with lupus should get regular urine and blood tests to check for kidney problems, which can be treated more effectively when found early.2

Blood disorders. Lupus can lead to problems with the blood, including low red blood cells (anemia) and excess blood clotting (thrombosis). In some cases, blood transfusions or bone marrow testing may be necessary to treat these conditions.6

Osteoporosis. Lupus medications can cause bone loss, which can lead to osteoporosis in women. Staying physically active can help prevent bone loss.2

Track your symptoms using our lupus symptoms checklist to help prepare for your conversation with your healthcare provider.

Symptoms Checklist
Last medically reviewed by an Exagen subject expert on 08/15/2022.


  1. Lupus Foundation of America. What Is Lupus? Accessed July 12, 2022.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lupus in Women. Accessed July 12, 2022.
  3. National Library of Medicine. Lupus. Accessed July 12, 2022.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). Accessed July 12, 2022.
  5. Lupus Foundation of America. What Is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)? Accessed July 12, 2022.
  6. Lupus Foundation of America. How Lupus Affects the Blood. Accessed July 12, 2022.