Is Lupus and Lupus Anticoagulant the Same?

Reviewed on 3/28/2022

What is lupus anticoagulant?

Lupus is an autoimmune condition and lupus anticoagulant refers to antiphospholipid antibody syndrome. Lupus and lupus anticoagulant are not the same.
Lupus is an autoimmune condition and lupus anticoagulant refers to antiphospholipid antibody syndrome. Lupus and lupus anticoagulant are not the same.

Put simply, the answer is no. Lupus and lupus anticoagulant are not the same! If you have lupus, you don’t necessarily have lupus anticoagulant. Lupus anticoagulant is a type of antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, not a form of lupus.

Lupus anticoagulant refers to antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, or the presence of certain antiphospholipid antibodies in your body. If you have one or more varieties of this category of antibodies, you have a higher than average chance of developing blood clots and can exhibit some common side effects. If you have both lupus and lupus anticoagulant, you may still show symptoms of one while the other is under control.

Don’t be misled by the name — an anticoagulant is something that makes it harder for the blood to clot, but lupus anticoagulant actually makes it easier for the blood to clot. As mentioned before, you can have lupus anticoagulant without having lupus. Both parts of the name come from old misconceptions about the antibody developed when it was first discovered in the 1940s.

This condition primarily affects women and people of African, Asian, and Hispanic descent. It’s least likely to be seen in people of European descent.

Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome

Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome (APS) can affect you whether you have lupus or not, although around 50% of people who have lupus also have APS. APS is defined by whether you have antiphospholipid antibodies and experience side effects as a result.

For example, your healthcare provider may run tests if you experience blood clots and other complications during pregnancy. If you prove to have high levels of antiphospholipid antibodies, you may then be diagnosed with APS.

Symptoms of lupus anticoagulant

You could have these antibodies in your system for years, or even your entire life, without showing symptoms. However, the most common symptom of lupus anticoagulant is blood clots.

A blood clot could be triggered by any of the following:

Oftentimes, if you have antiphospholipid antibodies, you’ll get a red or purple-tinted, lace-like pattern under your skin. This is called livedo and typically shows up on your arms, legs, or other extremities.

You might also experience repeated clotting in veins or have multiple pregnancy losses in a mid to late stage of pregnancy.

Testing for lupus anticoagulant

Lupus anticoagulant is screened for using blood clotting tests. If you have antiphospholipid antibodies, the test results will be abnormal. Your healthcare provider might decide to test for lupus anticoagulant if:

  • You have a blood clot and are young, don’t have a condition that would cause blood clots, or show signs of clotting in some other unlikely situation
  • You are a woman and have had repeated pregnancy losses

Complications of lupus anticoagulant

Blood clots are the most serious complication of lupus anticoagulant. They can start anywhere in your body and result in heart attack, gangrene, stroke, or other traumas. Other complications of antiphospholipid antibodies include:

Treating symptoms of lupus anticoagulant

Depending on how extreme your condition is, your healthcare provider will choose treatments to help prevent new clots and keep existing clots from growing.

You’ll likely need to take a blood thinner for a long period of time to stop blood clots from forming. If you have lupus, too, you should focus on keeping those symptoms under control. Your healthcare provider should monitor your condition with regular testing.

If you have lupus anticoagulant and get pregnant, you should contact a healthcare provider who specializes in APS.

What is lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease — a condition in which your immune system attacks your body’s own tissues and organs. This causes inflammation that can affect your joints, kidneys, brain, skin, blood cells, lungs, and heart.

Depending on your genes, you could be more likely to develop lupus, which can be triggered by getting an infection, using certain medicines, or exposing yourself to sunlight.

Symptoms of lupus

It can be hard to get a correct diagnosis because lupus shares symptoms with many other illnesses and lupus symptoms vary from person to person. Typically, if you have lupus, you’ll have steady, mild symptoms with flare-ups, or periods of extreme side effects, followed by an improvement or complete absence of symptoms for a while. 

Common symptoms include:

  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Pain, stiffness, and swelling in your joints
  • Face rash on your cheeks and nose (shaped like a butterfly) or somewhere else on your body
  • Lesions on your skin after being exposed to the sun
  • When exposed to cold or experiencing stress, fingers and toes that turn white or blue
  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • Pain in your chest
  • Dryness in your eyes
  • Difficulty remembering things
  • Headaches

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Causes of lupus

Some combination of genes and environment is likely the cause of lupus. Someone who inherits a predisposition for lupus will experience some variety of symptoms when exposed to a trigger.

Complications of lupus

Lupus can affect many parts of your body, so the possible complications vary:

  • Your kidneys can be seriously damaged. One of the most common causes of death for people with lupus is kidney failure.
  • Your brain is at risk of headaches, changes in behavior, dizziness, problems seeing, strokes or seizures, memory issues, or even difficulty putting your thoughts into words.
  • Your blood could experience a dip in healthy red blood cells or have inflamed blood vessels.
  • Your chest cavity lining is at risk of inflammation, making breathing difficult. You could also experience pneumonia or bleeding in your lungs.
  • Your heart muscle, heart membrane, or arteries can become inflamed. The chances of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease increase, too.

If you have lupus, you’re also at greater risk of:

  • Getting infections
  • Developing cancer
  • Death of bone tissue
  • Complications in pregnancy

How lupus is diagnosed

As mentioned, it can be difficult to tell the difference between lupus and other conditions, like diabetes or arthritis, due to many overlapping symptoms. Additionally, it can take a while for side effects of lupus to show themselves.

When a doctor tries to diagnose conditions like lupus, it can help know your family medical history and exactly which symptoms you’ve noticed. Your healthcare provider can also run lab tests to check for anemia, low blood cell counts, and other markers of lupus.

Treating lupus

Lupus is a chronic condition, meaning there is no complete cure, but there are ways to improve your quality of life. Depending on your unique symptoms and medical history, your healthcare provider can recommend ways to manage lupus, including certain medications.

Lupus and lupus anticoagulant

Lupus and lupus anticoagulant are not related conditions, although it’s possible to have both simultaneously. Whether you have one or both, work closely with your healthcare provider to mitigate side effects and learn how to best care for yourself.

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References
Sources:

Cleveland Clinic: "Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus)."

Hospital for Special Surgery: "Antiphospholipid Syndrome: An In-Depth Overview."

Johns Hopkins: "Antiphospholipid Antibodies."

Mayo Clinic: "Lupus."

Mount Sinai: "Lupus anticoagulants and antiphospholipid antibodies."

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