Psoriasis vs. Lupus: Symptoms, Treatment Options, and More

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI on November 27, 2017Written by James Roland

Psoriasis vs. lupus

Lupus and psoriasis are chronic conditions that have some key similarities and important differences. Psoriasis, for example, is much more prevalent than lupus. Psoriasis affects about 125 million people worldwide, and 5 million people worldwide have some form of lupus.

The role of the immune system

If you have a normal, healthy immune system and you’re injured or become sick, your body will produce antibodies. Antibodies are powerful proteins that help you heal. These antibodies target germs, bacteria, viruses, and other foreign agents.

If you have an autoimmune disease, such as psoriasis or lupus, your body makes autoantibodies. Autoantibodies mistakenly attack healthy tissue.

In the case of lupus, autoantibodies can cause skin rashes and sore joints. Psoriasis is mostly known for the patches of dry, dead skin plaques that form primarily on the:

  • scalp
  • knees
  • elbows
  • back

Some people with psoriasis also develop psoriatic arthritis, which makes their joints stiff and sore.

Symptoms of lupus and psoriasis

While symptoms of lupus and psoriasis can be noticed on your skin and in your joints, lupus can have more serious complications. The autoantibodies you make when you have lupus can also attack healthy organs. That can lead to hospitalization in some cases. Lupus can even be a life-threatening condition.

Lupus symptoms

Common symptoms of lupus include:

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • swollen joints
  • hair loss
  • facial rash
  • chest discomfort when taking deep breaths

Your fingers may also change color temporarily if they get cold.

If you have lupus and develop a face rash, the rash will appear in the shape of a butterfly. It will cover the bridge of your nose and your cheeks.

Psoriasis symptoms

Psoriasis can be uncomfortable, but it’s not a life-threatening disease. The symptoms of psoriasis may include:

  • red patches of skin
  • dry, cracked skin
  • itching
  • burning
  • swollen and stiff joints

Rashes associated with psoriasis can appear anywhere on your body, and they tend to be covered in silvery scales. Psoriasis rashes are often itchy, but rashes from lupus typically aren’t.

Lupus and psoriasis can both flare up, often unexpectedly. You can have lupus or psoriasis but go through long periods where you experience no noticeable symptoms. Flare-ups are usually preceded by specific triggers.

Stress is a common trigger for both psoriasis and lupus. Stress management techniques are especially worth learning if you have either condition.

A psoriasis flare-up can also follow any type of injury or damage to the skin, such as:

  • sunburn
  • a cut or scrape
  • a vaccination or other type of shot

Too much sun can also lead to a lupus flare-up.

While you should maintain good health for many reasons, it’s especially important to maintain a healthy lifestyle if you have lupus. Don’t smoke, eat a well-balanced diet, and get plenty of rest and exercise. All these steps may help reduce the severity of symptoms and help you recover faster if you do have a flare-up.

Who’s most at risk?

Psoriasis can affect anyone at any age, but the most common age range is between 15 and 25. Psoriatic arthritis typically develops in the 30s and 40s. It’s not fully understood why people get psoriasis, but there appears to be a strong genetic link. Having a relative with psoriasis makes you more likely to develop it.

It’s also not clear why people get lupus. Unlike psoriasis, lupus is much more likely to occur in specific types of people, though. Women in their teens through their 40s are at much higher risk of lupus than anyone else. Hispanic, African-American, and Asian people also face a greater risk of developing lupus than other people. It’s important to note that lupus can appear in both women and men, and people of all ages can get it.

Treatments for lupus and psoriasis

There are only a few medications for lupus. These include:

  • corticosteroids
  • antimalarial drugs, such as hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil)
  • belimumab (Benlysta), which is a monoclonal antibody

Psoriasis is also treated with corticosteroids. Usually, they’re in topical ointment form. The medication anthralin (Dithranol), which helps stabilize DNA activity in skin cells, is a common psoriasis treatment. Topical retinoids, which treat acne as well as psoriasis, are also commonly prescribed to treat psoriasis.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you develop the symptoms of lupus, such as:

  • a painful joint
  • unexplained fever
  • chest pain
  • unusual rash

You’ll be asked for information about your symptoms. If you have what you think were flare-ups, be sure to give your doctor a detailed medical history. A rheumatologist, a specialist in joint and muscle disorders, typically treats lupus. Depending on how your particular form of lupus affects your body, you may need to go to another specialist, such as a dermatologist or gastroenterologist.

Likewise, see your primary care physician or a dermatologist if you see dry patches of skin form anywhere on your body and you think you have psoriasis. You may also be referred to a rheumatologist if you also have swollen, stiff, or painful joints.

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