Lupus vs. MS: Symptoms, Similarities, Differences, and Treatment

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a prevalent disease in the U.S., affecting nearly 1 million people — much higher than previously thought. Meanwhile, lupus is another prominent disease that has been in the spotlight in recent years due to some high-profile cases, though it affects an estimated 1.5 million Americans according to Lupus.org.

Both of these diseases share some symptoms and are both considered autoimmune diseases, meaning your body’s immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues. But there are some distinct differences and different treatments that separate the two, which we’ll look further into…

What Are the Symptoms of Lupus?

This disease can have a wide range of signs, some of which overlap with MS. However, in general, those with lupus will experience symptoms such as pain (in joints and muscles), extreme fatigue, hair loss, and cognitive issues, as explained by Lupus.org.

However, the source notes that while these symptoms can impact day-to-day functioning, there are some other possible complications including cardiovascular disease, strokes, and “disfiguring rashes.” Some people with lupus may not have any visible symptoms, the source adds.

What Are the Signs of MS?

The signs of multiple sclerosis are often neurological in nature, as the disease generally attacks nerve cells. That can lead to numbness in the limbs, dizziness, and vision problems, according to Medical News Today. In fact, it can cause loss of vision in some rare cases.

MS can also be marked by trouble balancing and limb weakness. However, while it can lead to paralysis, the source explains that two in three patients with this disease may never become immobile. But there’s also a chance it could take away the ability to speak.

What Symptoms Do They Have in Common?

WebMD explains that because two diseases can share some of the same symptoms, it means doctors will have to administer several tests to rule out one or the other. For example, pain and fatigue are shared by the two conditions, the source explains.

Other symptoms that can appear in MS or lupus include limb and muscle weakness, trouble with memory and concentration, as well as depression, the source explains. They can both cause lesions on the brain, which makes them tougher to distinguish with medical imaging alone. In both cases, they are chronic conditions that are yet without cures.

A Rash Can Be a More Telltale Sign of Lupus

The Mayo Clinic says that while no two cases of lupus are exactly the same, there’s the risk of skin rashes in some cases depending on how the disease affects the body. More specifically, it notes, you will notice a “butterfly-shaped rash” across the cheeks and bridge of the nose. Lesions can also appear on the skin from sun exposure, the source adds.

However, while MS can cause muscle spasms, bladder issues, trouble swallowing, and more, there’s not much mention of any associated rash. Everyday Health points out that some MS treatments can actually cause a rash due to an allergic reaction when delivered intravenously (IV). Doctors can use an antihistamine to control the hives and redness in this case.

How Do MS and Lupus Behave?

While both of these diseases are autoimmune and chronic, symptoms can often act up from time to time. In the case of lupus, this is often called a “flare,” whereas MS presents as “relapsing-remitting” symptoms that can disappear for months or even years.

WebMD notes that lupus is not necessarily progressive (getting worse over time). It can remain mild in a patient throughout their life, or it can reach the severe end of the spectrum causing seizures and even kidney failure. MS symptoms can also come and go (depending on the type), and the symptoms might worsen without letting up — sometimes leading to trouble walking, notes Healthline.

Who Do The Diseases Affect?

Very Well Health says as far as similarities go, lupus and MS share the fact that they most commonly strike “younger women.” In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that women are far more likely to develop it than men — up to 12 cases in women per one in men.

Medicine Plus adds that MS also affects women primarily, but does not provide an exact ratio to cases within the male population (although some sources say triple). Sources also explain that both diseases may have a genetic factor within families, and some patients can develop two autoimmune conditions at the same time such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis (but very rarely both MS and lupus).

Are There Other Differing Risk Factors?

WebMD says that Caucasian individuals are at a higher risk of MS compared to other populations, but this has no bearing on the risk of lupus. Meanwhile, the source adds that being Black, Asian, or Hispanic means you’re more likely to develop lupus — but not more likely to develop MS.

Meanwhile, here’s another interesting fact: it appears the distance a person lives from the earth’s equator may be linked to the age they will develop MS, with a possible connection between lower levels of sunlight and disease progression. Meanwhile, people with lupus are extremely sensitive to sunlight as their cells are more prone to damage from UV rays.

Do They Both Impact Fertility?

More unfortunate news for women — WebMD says that women with lupus will find it more difficult to become pregnant, with a higher risk of complications such as miscarriages and preeclampsia, the latter marked by high blood pressure and organ damage.

The source says that women with MS don’t usually have more trouble becoming pregnant. However, there can still be some complications such as delivering smaller babies, and women with MS may have more trouble birthing and require a C-section, adds the source.

How Are They Distinguished for Diagnosis?

Neither condition has a single medical test that can distinguish one from the other. However, while doctors can use a variety of tools from scans to urine tests, Very Well Health explains that antiphospholipid antibody testing can help healthcare teams distinguish lupus from MS as it’s found in about half of all lupus cases.

Meanwhile, antinuclear antibodies (ANA) are much less common in cases of MS than lupus. “With lupus, it is rare not to have antinuclear antibodies,” adds the source. WebMD adds that with MS, immune cells cross the blood-brain barrier and damage the central nervous system. In lupus, immune B-cells can produce antibodies that can cause damage body-wide.

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How Can Misdiagnosis Affect Patients?

Because the diseases share several traits, a misdiagnosis can be a risk. Very Well Health explains that both conditions are immunological, affect a similar population, have a pattern of relapses, and may also both have neurological symptoms.

The source details the “impact” of being misdiagnosed can be detrimental to managing the conditions. For example, the source notes that being prescribed MS drugs when you actually have lupus can make the lupus symptoms worse. If you notice changing symptoms, be sure to mention them to your doctor in any case.

Are They Treated Differently?

Very Well Health says that proper diagnosis is key to managing the diseases, as the treatments for both vary considerably. When it comes to lupus, the most common treatments include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and inflammation. Doctors can also use steroids, antimalaria drugs, as well as immunosuppressive treatments for more severe cases that affect major organs.

The source explains that doctors most often use interferons to treat MS. Beta interferons are disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) that are meant to manage relapsing and secondary progressive forms of MS. Doctors also use immunosuppressants and immunomodulators to tackle the disease.

Does Life Expectancy Differ Between Both?

Also according to Very Well Health, with the right diagnosis and treatment, up to 90-percent of patients with lupus can expect to live a normal lifespan. This is a much rosier picture for lupus patients than 60-years or so ago when only half of the people with the condition were expected to make it beyond 5-years.

Meanwhile, MS can be deadly if the form of the disease is aggressive, while others with milder forms may expect to live a normal lifespan, adds the source. However, on average, those with MS live 7-years less than a person without the disease, the source explains.

Jeff Hayward

Jeff Hayward

Jeff has more than 15 years of experience writing professionally about health, travel and the arts among other subjects. He continuously looks to improve his own overall health through exercise, diet and mindfulness. He is also a proud stay-at-home dad that loves taking photographs both professionally and as a hobby.

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