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Despite the differences between lupus and multiple sclerosis, a patient should seek immediate medical advice upon the presentation of symptoms so the process of diagnosis can begin and, should it be a different underlying cause, uncovered.

Multiple sclerosis is one of the most difficult diseases to manage, and development means a patient will suffer from the symptoms for the rest of their lives. There is no cure for multiple sclerosis, and finding ways to manage symptoms is essential to quality of life. Early detection and diagnosis can be crucial in getting the best results.

Of course, diagnosing MS requires ruling out all other possible diseases and conditions, which can be difficult since there are a number of ailments that have similar symptoms or progression. One such disease is lupus, which is also a difficult condition to live with. Lupus is slightly more common than MS, but both are detrimental to daily life without management skills. However, there are some significant differences that make it necessary to define which diagnosis is accurate as early as possible.

What is lupus?

Lupus is, like multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to see parts of the body the same as it sees foreign elements, causing it to create antibodies that attack certain cells. There are several forms of lupus, but the most common is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), in which the attacks are centered around:

  • The skin
  • Organs including brain, heart, lungs, and kidneys
  • Joints
  • Blood cells

Drug-induced lupus is another form, which is completely reversible once the drug treatment is stopped. Usually, it’s associated with long term use of certain drugs, such as those used as anti-inflammatories or anticonvulsants. Those prescribed for heart disease, thyroid problems, hypertension, and neuropsychiatric disorders are also known culprits. Cutaneous lupus is a form of the disease that affects only the skin and not other organs of the body. Neonatal and childhood lupus are both rare and temporary, usually clearing up as babies and children grow and mature.

Lupus and MS: Symptoms and similarities

Though the diseases progress quite differently, some of the initial complaints of symptoms between multiple sclerosis and lupus may be similar. This could be due to the fact that, in rare cases, lupus does affect the nervous system. Mostly, it’s because some of the early warning signs of MS are based on reactions of the body that occur due to attacks on the nervous system, which present in the same way that more direct attacks present in lupus.

For example, patients with both diseases may notice:

  • Muscle pain and/or general discomfort throughout the body
  • Joint pain, similar to arthritis
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Severe and frequent headaches
  • Changes in personality
  • Seizures

In both multiple sclerosis and lupus, patients tend to suffer flare-ups, or relapses, with remissions during which the symptoms fade completely or mostly. Both diseases also require extensive testing prior to diagnosis, with the goal of eliminating any other factor that could be causing the symptoms. Because of the many and varied symptoms, they are both difficult to diagnose. It’s also normal for either disease to accompany another autoimmune disease in a patient, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

When it comes to managing symptoms, there are great similarities in the treatment as well.

Suggested practices for both include:

  • Getting enough rest, which can shorten relapses and flare ups as well as combat weakness and fatigue.
  • Exercising regularly to improve strength and coordination, as well as help shorten relapse periods.
  • Eating healthy to improve and control weight for better quality of life, as well as to adhere to dietary restrictions of lupus and to get enough vitamin D with MS.
  • Making an effort to relieve stress that can increase quantity and severity of flare ups; this could include breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, and other practices as suggested by a therapist.

It’s likely no coincidence that 90 percent of lupus patients and over 70 percent of MS patients are women, which leads sciencists to believe that, somewhere in the risk factors, hormones weigh in. Age can also play a role; while either disease can be diagnosed at any age, the highest risk for MS is between the ages of 18 and 40, while lupus is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 45. People with either condition already arising in immediately family are also at a higher risk. Both conditions also seem to be linked to exposure to Epstein-Barr (the herpes virus that causes mononucleosis) and other viruses in the family, such as chickenpox.

Multiple sclerosis vs lupus: The differences

Of course, there are plenty of differences between MS and lupus, and diagnosing the difference requires a physician to look a little deeper into the symptoms and possible causes.

  • Some risk factors are the same, such as being female, being of a certain age, or being exposed to a herpes virus. However, lupus risk factors also lean heavily on environmental causes, including photosensitivity and overexposure to ultraviolet light, exposure to silica dust (found in cigarette smoke, cleaning powders, soil, and pottery), and exposure to smoking. Another risk factor for lupus is being of Hispanic, Asian, or African descent. For MS, European descent is a risk factor, as well as vitamin D deficiency and living in more temperate, cooler climates.
  • Some forms of medication can cause one type of lupus, which is easily remedied with the removal of said medication from a patient’s regimen. This, however, is not the case with multiple sclerosis. In addition, lifestyle choices don’t seem to be as heavily involved in the onset of MS, though in lupus, emotional or physical stress, exhaustion, and smoking are all common causes that could be linked to the development of lupus.

Once the diagnoses are made, similarities return in treatment options. The idea for both diseases is to manage and moderate. That means:

  • Reducing inflammation that occurs in MS and lupus, which can be damaging to the body
  • Suppressing some of the action of the immune system to prevent inflammation and attacks
  • Preventing relapses and flare ups, and to treat them when they do occur
  • Controlling and managing symptoms
  • Minimizing complications that occur due to the presence of the disease

For both diseases, certain types of medication are used to perform these tasks. Corticosteroids and other anti-inflammatories are commonly prescribed, whether orally or by infusion. Immunosuppressants are employed under a physician’s care. Disease modifying therapies (DMTs) are also popular in both cases. However, lupus may also be treated with an antimalarial drug, and severe and extremely advanced cases of MS could be treated with chemotherapy.


Despite the differences between lupus and multiple sclerosis, a patient should seek immediate medical advice upon the presentation of symptoms so the process of diagnosis can begin and, should it be a different underlying cause, uncovered. The sooner treatment begins for either disease, the better the prognosis for the patient, and it’s essential to know which ailment to treat since, even with similar types of medication, the approved variety and dosage are not the same.

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