The 'Invisible Disease' That Was Staring At Me In The Mirror

How lupus can show itself in your skin, hair, and nails.
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How lupus can show itself in your skin, hair, and nails.

Lupus is often referred to as an "invisible disease," because the symptoms--some of which are headaches, fatigue, painful or swollen joints, and shortness of breath--aren't visible in plain sight and often mimic those of other disorders. 

In other words, people with lupus don't look sick.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes your body's immune system to attack normal, healthy tissue. These attacks, called "flares," can last for weeks (even months), with periods of remission in between.  

I experienced some of the not-so-invisible symptoms of the disease, but didn’t even realize they were signs of lupus until I started having joint pain and was diagnosed. All three of these visible symptoms were somewhat beauty related, and I'm going to take you through them here. 

Skin Rashes

Sun exposure can often trigger lupus symptoms like skin rashes, notably a butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks and bridge of the nose. For me, the butterfly rash is not so prominent, but sun exposure definitely leaves me with very rosy cheeks, so I wear sunscreen every day--rain or shine.   

When I was in high school, I developed a rash on the top part of my arm that looked like a cluster of tiny pimples or whiteheads. It gave me such a complex that I'd have to wear things to cover it up. After visits to the dermatologist and trying several different creams--some herbal and some with cortisone--the rash still persisted and would come and go. I just assumed it was a heat rash and left it at that. Years later, when I developed joint pain, I had tests done and found out that the rash was lupus-related.

Hair Loss

Most people don’t notice the strands of hair that they lose every day, but with lupus, it is much more visible. Hair loss and brittle hair are common side effects of lupus. It can be caused by the disease itself or by certain medications used to treat it.

When I was younger I always had thick enough hair, but as I got older it started to get thin and brittle. I was by no means balding, but I was losing more hair than normal. For me, one of the first symptoms of a flare is hair loss, and although my hair grows back thicker once a flare has passed, it definitely gives me a dip in self confidence. I’ve even gone as far as spending a fortune on hair extensions to make myself feel a little better.

Nail Problems

Lupus can cause a variety of nail abnormalities, such as nail pitting, discoloration, and splinter hemorrhages (tiny blood clots that appear as thin brown lines under the nail), to name a few.

I’ve always had weak nails, as I grew up biting them (disgusting habit, I know, but I have given it up). After I found out about my lupus, I paid more attention to my nails and noticed periodic splinter hemorrhages. 

The condition of your nails can tell you a lot about the state of your health, so it’s always best to consult your doctor if you have any nail abnormalities.

I’m happy to say that I have been healthy and flare-free for almost two years, thanks to my medication. But when symptoms do occur, I spot them quickly and seek treatment. 

I hope this article is helpful to others who may be experiencing these symptoms; even if they don't seem serious, it's always a good idea to get them checked out.       

If you want to find out more about lupus, the Lupus Foundation of America is a great source of information.