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. There are several forms of lupus, but 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, such as viral infections or chemicals.
Flares of lupus can be triggered by:
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:
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, there are usually periods of remission between flare-ups.
Common symptoms may include:
Other symptoms depend on the area of the body that is affected:
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 specific diagnostic criteria related to 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:
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 the severity and location of your symptoms.
There are many different kinds of medications that are used to treat SLE. Examples include:
Your doctor may recommend that you take a combination of medications.
Some lifestyle changes can help you prevent flare-ups of SLE. Lower doses of antimalarial drugs, corticosteroids, and drugs to suppress the immune system may also be used to prevent flares. Work with your doctor to create a plan for your symptoms.
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.
Lupus Foundation of America
Lupus Research Institute
The Kidney Foundation of Canada
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 February 2015. Accessed May 16, 2016.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115873/Systemic-lupus-erythematosus-SLE. Updated September 15, 2016. Accessed September 28, 2016.
Understanding lupus. Lupus Foundation of America website. Available at: http://www.lupus.org/answers/topic/understanding-lupus. Accessed May 16, 2016.
12/4/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115873/Systemic-lupus-erythematosus-SLE: 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 Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115873/Systemic-lupus-erythematosus-SLE: 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 Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115873/Systemic-lupus-erythematosus-SLE: 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 May 2016 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.