Understanding the Link Between Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Aug 26, 2020

If you’ve just been diagnosed with lupus, one of your main symptoms may be joint pain. While some patients’ joint pain stems from their lupus, others may actually have it from developing arthritis.

So you may wonder if your joint pain is actually caused by lupus or if it’s caused by rheumatoid arthritis (RA) — or something else. And if you have lupus, does that mean you’ll develop arthritis down the road? Read on to learn more about how these conditions are linked and how to treat both.

Why Are Lupus Sufferers More Prone to Arthritis?

A 2007 study showed evidence of a genetic link between rheumatoid arthritis and lupus when there were mutations in the STAT4 gene. Researchers are still unsure of what causes them, but people with these mutations are more likely to develop autoimmune diseases.

But even if you don’t have a genetic predisposition, there is another reason why people with lupus are prone to arthritis. Lupus is an inflammatory disease where the body attacks its own tissues, which can then lead to the development of arthritis. In fact, up to 90 percentof lupus patients will have some form of arthritis with their disease.

Is Joint Pain Always Caused by Rheumatoid Arthritis in Lupus Patients?

When people with lupus complain of joint pain, there can be many possible causes besides RA. True rheumatoid arthritis causes joint lining inflammation and degradation. But when a person describes joint pain, they could also be describing pain from tendinitis (tendon inflammation) or myalgia (muscle inflammation). Both tendinitis and myalgia can also be caused by lupus.

To make matters more complicated, while RA, tendinitis, and myalgia are linked to lupus, your joint pain may not be related at all to your condition. Joint pain could also be caused by something like osteoporosis (weakening bone tissue).

Lastly, some lupus patients with joint pain develop lupus arthritis, which is also different from rheumatoid arthritis. While lupus arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis cause pain in similar joint locations, RA tends to cause more severe symptoms. Lupus arthritis doesn’t cause as much morning stiffness, swelling, and length of pain as RA does.

Can You Treat Both Arthritis and Lupus at the Same Time?

You can often treat lupus the same way you’d treat RA. But you’ll need to visit a rheumatologist who specializes in autoimmune and musculoskeletal diseases for a firm diagnosis and further information.

In the early stages, your doctor may recommend oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatories pills or injections since these treatments reduce inflammation. However, if you can’t find relief from these types of methods, your doctor might recommend infusion therapy.

What Is Infusion Therapy and How Can It Help Both RA and Lupus?

Infusion therapy is a type of procedure where your medications are administered intravenously. Infusion therapies, like corticosteroids or rituximab, can treat both RA and lupus, as well as other autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

There are some distinct advantages to IV medications. The medications are sent directly into the bloodstream so they work more quickly and don’t lose potency like oral medications which can break down in the stomach and liver. The medications can also be delivered slowly, but continually, which means your doctor has better control over dosage to meet your needs.

If you decide to go forward with infusion therapy, you’ll need to understand all the risks, preparations, and aftercare. For example, some IV infusions for both RA And lupus act as immunosuppressants to help reduce inflammation from an overactive immune system. However, because these medications suppress the immune system, you must be in good health and have no active infections before your appointments.

Reach out to us at Sarasota Arthritis Center to learn more about infusion therapy and how we can help you manage symptoms from arthritis and lupus.

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