Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a long-term autoimmune disorder that may affect the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, and other organs.
Disseminated lupus erythematosus; SLE; Lupus; Lupus erythematosus; Discoid lupus
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease, which means the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. This leads to long-term (chronic) inflammation.
The underlying cause of autoimmune diseases is not fully known.
SLE is much more common in women than men. It may occur at any age, but appears most often in people between the ages of 10 and 50. African Americans and Asians are affected more often than people from other races.
SLE may also be caused by certain drugs. For information on this cause, see Drug-induced lupus erythematosus
Symptoms vary from person to person, and may come and go. Almost everyone with SLE has joint pain and swelling. Some develop arthritis. Frequently affected joints are the fingers, hands, wrists, and knees.
Other common symptoms include:
Other symptoms depend on what part of the body is affected:
Some patients only have skin symptoms. This is called discoid lupus.
To be diagnosed with lupus, you must have 4 out of 11 typical signs of the disease.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and listen to your chest with a stethoscope. An abnormal sound called a heart friction rub or pleural friction rub may be heard. A nervous system exam will also be done.
Tests used to diagnose SLE may include:
This disease may also alter the results of the following tests:
This list is not all inclusive.
There is no cure for SLE. The goal of treatment is to control symptoms.
Mild disease may be treated with:
You should wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and sunscreen when in the sun.
Severe or life-threatening symptoms (such as hemolytic anemia, extensive heart or lung involvement, kidney disease, or central nervous system involvement) often require more aggressive treatment by doctor specialists.
Treatment for more severe lupus may include:
If you have lupus, it is also important to have:
Talk therapy and support groups may help relieve depression and mood changes that may occur in patients with this disease.
See: Lupus resources
How well a person does depends on the severity of the disease.
The outcome for people with SLE has improved in recent years. Many people with SLE have mild symptoms.
Women with SLE who become pregnant are often able to carry safely to term and deliver a healthy infant, as long as they do not have severe kidney or heart disease and the SLE is being treated appropriately. However, the presence of SLE antibodies may increase the risk of pregnancy loss.
Some people with SLE have abnormal deposits in the kidney cells. This leads to a condition called lupus nephritis. Patients with this condition may eventually develop kidney failure and need dialysis or a kidney transplant.
SLE causes damage to many different parts of the body, including:
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of SLE. Also, call if you have this disease and your symptoms get worse or a new one occurs.
Ruiz-Irastorza G, Ramos-Casals M, Brito-Zeron P, Khamashta MA. Clinical efficacy and side effects of antimalarials in systemic lupus erythematosus: a systematic review. Ann Rheum Dis. 2010;69:20-28.
Hahn BH, Tsao BP. Pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus. In: Firestein GS, Budd RC, Harris ED Jr., et al., eds. Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 74.