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COVID-19 Triggers Increase in Lupus

July 17, 2023

The official emergency of COVID-19 may be over, but many are finding the virus and vaccine affected the immune system enough to rouse longer lasting conditions like lupus. More people than ever are being diagnosed with the autoimmune disease, especially in communities of color, notes John Magaldi, MD, chief of rheumatology at the Hartford HealthCare Bone & Joint Institute. “Coronavirus and vaccinations ‘stimulate’ the immune system, which turns on the disease process in people with a genetic predisposition for lupus,” he explains. “In communities of color, not only are there higher rates of lupus but they also have greater complications such as kidney or cardiovascular involvement.” [insert-cta-small id=44993]

What is lupus and who does it affect?

A chronic disease in people with a genetic predisposition, lupus causes the immune system to shift from protecting the body against infection and disease to attacking joints, tissue and organs, including the skin. It affects mainly females between 20 and 50, and is more likely to present after childbirth, Dr. Magaldi says. Signs of lupus include:
  • Rash, notably a butterfly-shaped rash on the cheeks
  • Rash after sun exposure
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Fever
  • Raynaud’s disease, which causes numbness and coldness in some areas of the body, like toes and fingers, in response to cold temperatures and stress
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth or nose sores
  • Swollen lymph glands
In more serious cases, patients can experience hepatitis, kidney failure, seizures, psychosis and miscarriage. “Women are more likely to get lupus but it can also affect men and children and presents differently in them,” notes Dr. Magaldi, who adds extreme fatigue, appetite loss and weight loss to the symptoms for men and children.

Lupus isn’t curable, but are there treatments that can help?

While there is no cure for this life-long disease yet, Dr. Magaldi says patients do experience periods where symptoms relax. “Like most other autoimmune diseases, symptoms often wax and wane. It can and often does go into remission or become milder after menopause,” he says. Diagnostic tools have also gotten much more precise, helping specialists confirm a diagnosis so proper treatment can be started. In addition, Dr. Magaldi lists a variety of new medications helping patients address the symptoms of lupus. “They’re called ‘biologic’ and they’re specifically designed to target certain symptoms. We’re still hoping for more to be developed to further help patients enjoy their lives as much as possible,” he says.