Definition

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a problem with the immune system. It causes the immune system to make antibodies that attack the body's healthy cells and tissue. There are many forms of lupus, but SLE is the most common.

Causes

The cause is unknown.

Risk Factors

SLE is more common in women aged 15-45 years old. It is also more common in people who are Black, Asian, and Hispanic.

Other factors that raise your risk are:

Symptoms

Symptoms can be mild or very severe. It can affect one part of the body or many. Though symptoms can be lasting, there are often times without symptoms in between.

You may have:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever without signs of infection
  • Weight loss
  • Swollen and painful joints
  • Swollen muscles
  • Skin rashes over areas exposed to sunlight, especially a butterfly shaped rash over the nose and cheeks
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Mouth sores
  • Hair loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Belly pain
  • Problems breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
Common SLE Rash Sites
Lupus rash
Facial butterfly rash is a hallmark symptom of SLE.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Symptoms differ for each person and change over time, making it hard to diagnose.

You may have:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Images taken with an MRI scan
  • Skin biopsy

Treatment

SLE can’t be cured. Symptoms can be managed with medicines and lifestyle changes. Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. It will depend on the severity and location of your symptoms.

Medication

There are many medicines that are used, such as:

  • Antimalarial drugs
  • Corticosteroids
  • Drugs to suppress the immune system
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Estrogens
  • B-cell therapy
  • Blood thinners

You may need to take more than one of these medicines.

Preventing Flare-ups

Some changes can help you prevent flare-ups. Changes to your medicines may also be used to prevent them. Work with your doctor to make a plan. This may mean that you:

  • Learn the signs of a flare-up and call your doctor right away
  • Get treatment for any cuts or infections right away
  • Manage symptoms for other chronic health problems
  • Avoid sun exposure
  • If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Limit stress
  • Get enough rest
  • Exercise regularly if your doctor says it is okay

Chronic Care

SLE is best managed with strong communication between you and your healthcare team. Make sure to go to all appointments as advised. Let your doctor know about any changes in your health or care program.

Depression in people with SLE is common. Surround yourself with supportive family and friends. If you are still having problems, seek counseling or join a support group.

Prevention

There is no way to prevent SLE since the cause is not known.

Revision Information