Written by Dr. Valentina Quintana MD on
September 22, 2022
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Dr. Valentina Quintana MD on:

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Do you feel like you’re not yourself lately? Are you having trouble thinking clearly and making decisions? If yes, you might be experiencing brain fog.

Brain fog is a common symptom of lupus and can also be caused by other factors, especially underlying health conditions.

If you’re struggling with lupus and brain fog, don’t worry—you’re not alone.

This article will discuss different types of lupus, their causes, and their symptoms. We will also explore lupus fog, how it affects the brain, and how to manage it.

Let’s get started.

What is lupus, exactly?

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which your immune system becomes hyperactive and damages any part of your body, including the brain, as it attacks healthy tissues.

This disease is characterized by pain and inflammation, commonly affecting the joints, skin, and internal organs, such as the heart and kidneys.

Different Types of Lupus

Lupus is commonly mistaken for only one type, but there are actually four different classifications:

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

This is the most common type of lupus. Research suggests that 70% of people have systemic lupus erythematosus.

SLE can cause inflammation in different organs and organ systems throughout the body, either all at once or over time.

Systemic lupus erythematosus may lead to more critical illnesses, such as those described below:

  • Lupus nephritis, or inflammation of the kidneys, can have a range of debilitating consequences. If left untreated, it may damage the kidney to such an extent that dialysis or a transplant becomes necessary.
  • Memory issues, headaches, strokes, and other cognitive problems can all be caused by inflammation of the nervous system and brain.
  • Seizures, high fevers, and behavioral changes are all associated with inflammation in the brain’s blood vessels.
  • Carotid artery stenosis or atherosclerosis (the build-up of deposits on coronary artery walls) can induce a heart attack.
  • Skin inflammation could cause ulcers, rashes, and sores on different parts of your body. Almost half of all people with SLE will develop what’s called a “malar rash”—a butterfly-shaped rash in the nose area and across the cheeks, which gets worse in the sun.

Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus (CLE)

This type of lupus only affects the skin and doesn’t cause any systemic damage.

Cutaneous lupus erythematosus often causes significant rashes and sores, especially on sun-exposed areas like the face, legs, arms, neck, and ears.

Research also suggests that 40% to 70% of people with CLE will find that their disease gets worse when they are exposed to ultraviolet rays, either from the sun or artificial light.

There are three subtypes of cutaneous lupus erythematosus:

Discoid lupus erythematosus

Discoid lupus is characterized by round, disk-shaped lesions. The sores generally appear on the scalp and face but may also manifest on other regions of the body.

Discoid lupus lesions commonly manifest as red, scaly, and thick skin. They generally don’t cause pain or itchiness. However, if left untreated for an extended period of time, these lesions can lead to scarring and two-toned skin discoloration.

In addition, if discoid lesions form on the scalp, they may result in hair loss. If these lesions leave scars when healing, the hair loss could be permanent.

Acute cutaneous lupus

When your systemic lupus is active, you may get acute cutaneous lupus skin problems. A malar rash—flattened areas of red skin on the face that resemble a sunburn—is the most typical type of acute cutaneous lupus, also called the “butterfly rash.”

The butterfly rash gets its name from its characteristic shape: when it appears on both cheeks and across the bridge of the nose, it looks like a butterfly.

The rash can also show up on other parts of the body, like the arms and legs. They usually change color when they’re exposed to sunlight. Usually, they don’t leave scars, but sometimes skin color may stay changed after the rash goes away.

Subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus

Red, scaly skin with sharp edges or red, circular lumps are common symptoms of subacute cutaneous lesions.

The areas of the body most likely to develop these lesions are those typically exposed to sunlight: arms, shoulders, and neck. They usually don’t cause itchiness or scarring but can become discolored over time.

Phototoxicity is a characteristic of subacute cutaneous changes. When spending time outdoors or under fluorescent lights, preventative measures should be taken.

Drug-Induced Lupus Erythematosus (DILE)

While lupus is not caused by medications, some drugs can trigger a lupus-like reaction. The most common culprits are certain blood pressure medications, heartburn drugs, and antibiotics.

When a person takes a medication that causes DILE, the symptoms usually go away when they stop taking the drug.

However, in some cases, the lupus-like reaction may be more severe and persistent, even after discontinuing the medication. If this happens, a person may be diagnosed with drug-induced lupus erythematosus (DILE).

There are no specific criteria for diagnosing drug-induced lupus. Symptoms, on the other hand, frequently overlap with those of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

The following DILE symptoms are among those that may be confused with SLE:

  • swelling and pain or discomfort in the joints, muscles, and tendons
  • fatigue and fever that often come with the flu
  • pain or discomfort caused by the inflammation around the heart or lungs, also known as serositis.

While the symptoms of drug-induced lupus are comparable to those of systemic lupus, significant organs are seldom affected.

Neonatal Lupus

Neonatal lupus is a rare condition that can affect newborns.

The most common symptom is a rash, which usually appears on the baby’s face, often in the shape of a butterfly. The rash may also show up on the baby’s chest, back, or scalp.

In some cases, the rash may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as low blood count, heart problems, or liver problems.

Neonatal lupus is caused by antibodies that the mother has in her bloodstream. These antibodies can cross the placenta and enter the baby’s circulation.

Most babies with neonatal lupus don’t have any long-term effects from the condition. However, in some cases, it can lead to serious problems, such as heart defects or liver damage.

Common Causes of Lupus

The cause of lupus is unknown. However, a combination of genetic and environmental factors may play a role in its development.

Lupus is more common in women of childbearing age, particularly those of certain ethnicities, such as African, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American descent.

Also, people with certain genetic markers have a higher risk of developing lupus. These include markers for the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) system, a group of genes that helps the body distinguish between its own cells and foreign invaders.

Certain environmental factors may also trigger lupus. These include:

  • ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or other sources
  • infections
  • certain medications
  • exposure to chemicals, such as pesticides or mercury.

Common Symptoms of Lupus

Lupus can cause a wide range of symptoms. These may differ from person to person and can change over time. The most common lupus symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • joint pain
  • skin rash
  • fever
  • chest pain
  • hair loss.

Lupus can also cause more serious problems, such as:

  • inflammation of the lungs or heart
  • kidney damage
  • central nervous system problems.

How is lupus diagnosed?

There’s no one test that can definitively diagnose lupus. Instead, doctors often use a combination of tests to make a diagnosis.

These may include:

  • a complete blood count (CBC), which measures different types of blood cells
  • a sedimentation rate (ESR), which is a measure of inflammation in the body
  • kidney and liver function tests
  • a urinalysis, which is a test of the urine
  • chest x-rays
  • an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG), which measures electrical activity in the heart.

Treatment for Lupus

There’s no cure for lupus. However, treatment can help manage symptoms and reduce the severity and duration of lupus flares.

Treatment may include:

  • anti-inflammatory drugs, such as corticosteroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • immunosuppressive drugs, such as methotrexate or cyclophosphamide
  • biologic drugs, such as belimumab
  • antimalarial drugs, such as hydroxychloroquine.

In some cases, lupus can cause serious problems. These may require hospitalization or even surgery.

If you think you may have lupus, it’s important to see your doctor for an accurate diagnosis. Early diagnosis and treatment can help reduce the severity of lupus and its symptoms.

What is Brain Fog?

Brain fog is a term used to describe feelings of confusion, forgetfulness, or mental fatigue.

While brain fog can affect anyone at any time, it’s more common in people with certain conditions, such as lupus.

Lupus fog is thought to be caused by inflammation in the brain. This inflammation can lead to changes in brain function, resulting in symptoms such as:

  • memory problems
  • trouble concentrating
  • confusion
  • fatigue.

How to Manage Lupus Fog

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to managing lupus fog. However, there are a few things that may help.

These include:

  • getting enough sleep
  • eating a healthy diet
  • exercising regularly
  • practicing stress-relieving techniques, such as meditation or yoga
  • talking to a therapist
  • taking lupus medication as prescribed.

If lupus and brain fog are affecting your quality of life, it’s important to talk to your doctor. They can help you manage your symptoms and make lifestyle changes that may improve your overall well-being.

In Conclusion

Brain fog can be a frustrating symptom of lupus. However, there are things you can do to manage it. With the right treatment and self-care, you can live a full and active life.

If you or someone you know has lupus and is experiencing brain fog, there are plenty of resources available to help.

The Lupus Foundation of America provides support, education, and advocacy for people with lupus and their families.

You can also join an online community of people with lupus, such as the Lupus Chat Room on DailyStrength. This is a great place to share information, offer support, and connect with others who understand what you’re going through.

Lupus and brain fog can be a challenge, but you don’t have to go through it alone. There are many people and organizations ready to help you live your best life.

Also, if you want to learn more about improving your overall brain health, we’ve got plenty of resources in our blog

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