What is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
Systemic lupus erythematosus is a long-term (chronic) disease that can affect many parts of the body.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is an autoimmune disease. With this type of disease, the body’s defense system (immune system) mistakenly attacks healthy tissues.
This can cause damage to the skin, joints, blood vessels, brain, kidneys, lungs, heart, and other internal organs. It causes pain, irritation, and inflammation.
SLE is an autoimmune disease with protean manifestations caused by the production of autoantibodies and deposition of complement.
Manifestations can vary from skin and joint disease to organ dysfunction such as renal failure. Prognosis can vary depending on the degree of organ involvement and damage.
4 Interesting Facts of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
1. Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease characterized by the production of autoantibodies, which deposit within the tissues and fix complement leading to systemic inflammation.
2. Lupus typically affects women of childbearing age and is also more common in certain ethnic minority groups such as African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics.
3. Lupus is a heterogeneous disease with a continuum of disease activity. For example, some patients can have predominant skin and joint involvement, whereas others can present with organ-threatening disease like nephritis or diffuse alveolar hemorrhage.
4. Infection must be always ruled out in a patient with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) who has fever and a significant C-reactive protein (CRP) elevation.
What are the causes?
The cause of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is not known.
What increases the risk of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus?
The following factors may make you more likely to develop Systemic Lupus Erythematosus:
- Being female.
- Being of Asian, Hispanic, or African-American descent.
- Having a family history of the condition.
- Being exposed to tobacco smoke or smoking cigarettes.
- Having an infection with a virus, such as Epstein–Barr virus.
- Having a history of exposure to silica dust, metals, chemicals, mold or mildew, or insecticides.
- Using oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy.
What are the symptoms of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus?
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus can affect almost any organ or system in the body.
Symptoms of the condition depend on which organ or system is affected.
The most common symptoms include:
- Weight loss.
- Muscle aches.
- Joint pain.
- Skin rashes, especially over the nose and cheeks (butterfly rash) and after sun exposure.
Symptoms can come and go.
A period of time when symptoms get worse or come back is called a flare. A period of time with no symptoms is called a remission.
How is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus diagnosed?
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is diagnosed based on:
- Your symptoms.
- Your medical history.
- A physical exam.
You may also have tests, including:
- Blood tests.
- Urine tests.
- A chest X-ray.
You may be referred to an autoimmune disease specialist (rheumatologist).
How is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus treated?
There is no cure for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, but treatment can help to control symptoms, prevent flares (keep symptoms in remission), and prevent damage to the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs.
Treatment of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus will depend on what symptoms you are having and what organs or systems are affected.
Treatment may involve taking a combination of medicines over time.
Common medicines used to treat Systemic Lupus Erythematosus include:
- Antimalarial medicines to control symptoms, prevent flares, and protect against organ damage.
- Corticosteroids and NSAIDs to reduce inflammation.
- Medicines to weaken your immune system (immunosuppressants).
- Biologic response modifiers to reduce inflammation and damage.
Follow these instructions at home:
Eating and drinking
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. This may include:
- Eating high-fiber foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and beans.
- Eating heart-healthy fats (omega-3 fats), such as fish, flaxseed, and flaxseed oil.
- Limiting foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, such as processed and fried foods, fatty meat, and full-fat dairy.
- Limiting how much salt (sodium) you eat.
- Include calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Good sources of
calcium and vitamin D include:
- Low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese.
- Certain fish, such as fresh or canned salmon, tuna, and sardines.
- Products that have calcium and vitamin D added to them (fortified products), such as fortified cereals or juice.
- Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
- Do not take any medicines that contain estrogen without first checking with your health care provider. Estrogen can trigger flares and may increase your risk for blood clots.
- Stay active, as directed by your health care provider.
- Do not use any products that contain nicotine or tobacco, such as cigarettes and e-cigarettes. If you need help quitting, ask your health care provider.
- Protect your skin from the sun by applying sunblock and wearing protective hats and clothing.
- Learn as much as you can about your condition and have a good support system in place. Support may come from family, friends, or a lupus support group.
- Work closely with all of your health care providers to manage your condition.
- Stay up to date on all vaccines as directed by your health care provider.
- Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.
Contact a health care provider if:
- You have a fever.
- Your symptoms flare.
- You develop new symptoms.
- You have bloody, foamy, or coffee-colored urine.
- There are changes in your urination. For example, you urinate more often at night.
- You think that you may be depressed or have anxiety.
- You become pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Pregnancy in women with this condition is considered high risk.
Get help right away if:
- You have chest pain.
- You have trouble breathing.
- You have a seizure.
- You suddenly get a very bad headache.
- You suddenly develop facial or body weakness.
- You cannot speak.
- You cannot understand speech.
These symptoms may represent a serious problem that is an emergency. Do not wait to see if the symptoms will go away. Get medical help right away. Call your local emergency services (911 in the U.S.). Do not drive yourself to the hospital.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a long-term disease that can affect many parts of the body.
- SLE is an autoimmune disease. That means your body’s defense system (immune system) mistakenly attacks healthy tissues.
- There is no cure for this condition, but treatment can help to control symptoms, prevent flares, and prevent damage to your organs. Treatment may involve taking a combination of medicines over time.