Approximately 9 out of 10 lupus patients are women. Lupus symptoms in women are wide-ranging and can affect nearly every part of the human body including the skin, joints, and internal organs. Approximately 85% of lupus patients will experience changes to their skin. One of the most common skin symptoms characteristic of most forms of the disease is a lupus rash.
Cutaneous or discoid lupus, which only affects the skin, is often associated with several different kinds of skin rashes and lesions, but these are also commonly present in people with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Most rashes are extremely photosensitive, meaning they are made worse by exposure to ultraviolet light like that from the sun.
Other lupus symptoms in women may include ulcers inside the nose and/or mouth, extreme fatigue, headaches, fever, dizziness, chest pain, hair loss, sleep disturbances, and internal damage to areas of the body such as the brain, kidneys, heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
The poster-child rash of lupus disease is the butterfly rash. This rash occurs on the face and gets its name from the characteristic “butterfly” shape it usually forms in. The body of the butterfly is made by the bridge of the nose and the wings are created by light pink and/or bright red markings that extend across the cheeks underneath each eye.
The areas of red may be large and solid or they may be blotchy. A butterfly rash may also be scaly in texture, and itching is a common complaint from lupus patients with this type of rash.
A second common lupus rash is the discoid rash. The term “discoid” refers to the shape of this rash which is often oval or disk-like. Discoid rashes commonly occur on the scalp, face, and neck along with other areas of the body exposed to sunlight. They are extremely photosensitive and may become very itchy.
Discoid lesions, discoid sores, and subacute cutaneous lesions are also common and may leave scars as they heal. These lesions are generally coin shaped and can cover large areas of the body if the skin becomes exposed to sunlight. Some discoid lesions start out looking like red pimples whereas others start out as flat lesions and get bigger by expanding outward.
Approximately 20% of SLE patients will experience what are known as chronic discoid lupus lesions. With these lesions, the central area becomes depressed and forms a scar which can be very disfiguring. Chronic discoid lesions require immediate and aggressive medical attention.
Many rashes may also be coupled with muscle and joint pain, fever, and overall discomfort. Since virtually all lupus rashes are made worse by sun exposure, sun screen becomes an extremely important prevention measure.