(Lupus; SLE; Lupus, Systemic)
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of joints, tendons, skin, blood vessels and other connective tissue, and organs. SLE causes the immune system to produce antibodies that attack the body's healthy cells and tissue. Of all the forms of lupus, SLE is the most common and most well-known.
The cause of SLE is unknown. It is likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
SLE is more common in women aged 20-45 years old. It is also more common in people of African American, Native American, and Hispanic descent.
Other factors that increase your chance of SLE include:
- Family history
- Celiac disease
Symptoms can be mild or very severe. For some people, only part of the body, such as skin, is affected. For others, many parts are affected. Though symptoms can be chronic, they can flare up and get better on and off.
Common symptoms may include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Swollen and/or painful joints
- Fever without signs of infection
- Skin rashes over areas exposed to sunlight, especially butterfly shaped rash over the nose and cheeks
Common SLE Rash Sites
Other symptoms may depend on the area of the body that is affected:
- Affected skin may become sensitive to light, have hives or red or purple rashes, or have hair loss
- Affected muscles may become stiff and weak
- Affected stomach and intestines may cause nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain
- Affected brain and nerves may lead to psychiatric disorders, such as depression, seizures, and nerve pain and numbness
SLE may cause complications during pregnancy. There may be a flare-up of symptoms, kidney problems, or pre-eclampsia. There is also an increased risk of premature birth, stillbirth , miscarriage, or growth problems with the baby during pregnancy.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Diagnosis is based on your signs and symptoms. Your doctor will also rule out other health conditions that have symptoms similar to SLE. It may take some time to gather all the necessary information for a diagnosis.
Some tests include:
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
- Imaging is done with an MRI scan
SLE is not curable, but it can be managed with medications and lifestyle changes. You may also need treatment for issues caused by SLE.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options depend on your symptoms.
There are many different kinds of medications that are used to treat SLE. Examples include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Antimalarial drugs
- Drugs to suppress the immune system
- B-cell therapy
Your doctor may recommend that you take a combination of medications.
Some lifestyle changes can help you prevent flare-ups of SLE. Work with your doctor to create a plan for your symptoms.
- Learn the signs of a flare-up and contact your doctor as soon as possible
- Get immediate treatment for any cuts or infections
- Manage symptoms for other chronic conditions caused by SLE
- Avoid sun exposure
- If you smoke, learn how to quit
- Eat a healthy diet
- Limit emotional stress
- Get enough rest
- Exercise regularly, with your doctor's permission
Chronic conditions liks SLE are best managed with strong communication between you and your healthcare team. Make sure to go to all appointments as recommended. Let your doctor know about any changes in your health or care program.
Depression in people with chronic health conditions like SLE is common, emotional support is important. Surround yourself with supportive family and friends. If you are still having problems, consider counseling or joining a support group.
There are no current guidelines to prevent SLE since the cause is not known.
Lupus Foundation of America
Lupus Research Institute
Lupus Foundation of Ontario
Handout on health: Systemic lupus erythematosus. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Lupus/default.asp. Updated August 2011. Accessed August 1, 2013.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 13, 2013. Accessed August 1, 2013.
Understanding lupus. Lupus Foundation of America website. Available at: http://www.lupus.org/answers/topic/understanding-lupus. Accessed August 1, 2013.
12/4/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Hartkamp A, Geenen R, Godaert GL, et al. Effects of dehydroepiandrosterone on fatigue and well-being in women with quiescent systemic lupus erythematosus. A randomized controlled trial. Ann Rheum Dis. 2010;69(6):1144-1147.
5/6/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Smyth A, Oliveira GH, Lahr BD, et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of pregnancy outcomes in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus and lupus nephritis. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2010;5(11):2060-2068.
11/25/2013 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Ludvigsson JF, Rubio-Tapia A, Chowdhary V, Murray JA, Simard JF. Increased risk of systemic lupus erythematosus in 29,000 patients with biopsy-verified celiac disease. J Rheumatol. 2012;39(10):1964-1970.
Last reviewed June 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.