Systemic lupus erythematosus
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a disease that leads to long-term (chronic) inflammation.


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. It can affect the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, and other organs. 

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.


Symptoms vary from person to person, and may come and go. Almost everyone with SLE has joint pain and swelling. Some develop arthritis. The joints of the fingers, hands, wrists, and knees are often affected.

Other common symptoms include:

Chest pain when taking a deep breath
Fever with no other cause
General discomfort, uneasiness, or ill feeling (malaise)
Hair loss
Mouth sores
Sensitivity to sunlight
Skin rash -- a "butterfly" rash in about half people with SLE. The rash is most often seen over the cheeks and bridge of the nose, but can be widespread. It gets worse in sunlight.
Swollen lymph nodes
Other symptoms depend on which part of the body is affected:

Brain and nervous system: headaches, numbness, tingling, seizures, vision problems, personality changes
Digestive tract: abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting
Heart: abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
Lung: coughing up blood and difficulty breathing
Skin: patchy skin color, fingers that change color when cold (Raynaud's phenomenon)
Some people have only skin symptoms. This is called discoid lupus.

Exams and Tests

To be diagnosed with lupus, you must have 4 out of 11 common signs of the disease.

Your doctor will do a physical exam and listen to your chest. 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:

Antibody tests, including antinuclear antibody (ANA) panel
Chest x-ray
Kidney biopsy
You may also have other tests to learn more about your condition. Some of these are:

Antithyroglobulin antibody
Antithyroid microsomal antibody
Complement components (C3 and C4)
Coombs' test - direct
Kidney function blood tests
Liver function blood tests
Rheumatoid factor

There is no cure for SLE. The goal of treatment is to control symptoms. Severe symptoms that involve the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs often need treatment from specialists.

Mild forms of the disease may be treated with:

NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, for joint symptoms and pleurisy
Corticosteroid creams for skin rashes
An antimalaria drug (hydroxychloroquine) and low-dose corticosteroids for skin and arthritis symptoms
Treatments for more severe lupus may include:

High-dose corticosteroids or medications to decrease the immune system response
Cytotoxic drugs (drugs that block cell growth). These medicines are used if you do not get better with corticosteroids, or if your symptoms get worse when the stop taking them. Side effects from these drugs can be severe, so you need to be monitored closely if you take them.
If you have lupus, it is also important to:

Wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and sunscreen when in the sun
Get preventive heart care
Stay up-to-date with immunizations
Have tests to screen for thinning of the bones (osteoporosis)
Support Groups

Counseling and support groups may help with the emotional issues involved with the disease. 

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outcome for people with SLE has improved in recent years. Many people with SLE have mild symptoms. How well you do depends on how severe the disease is.

The disease tends to be more active:

The first years after diagnosis
People under age 40
Many women with SLE can get pregnant and deliver a healthy baby. A good outcome is more likely for women who receive proper treatment and do not have serious heart or kidney problems. However, the presence of SLE antibodies raises the risk of miscarriage.

Possible Complications

Some people with SLE have abnormal deposits in the kidney cells. This leads to a condition called lupus nephritis. Patients with this problem may go on to develop kidney failure and need dialysis or a kidney transplant.

SLE can cause damage in many different parts of the body, including:

Blood clots in the legs or lungs 
Destruction of red blood cells (hemolytic anemia) or anemia of chronic disease
Fluid around the heart endocarditis, or inflammation of the heart (myocarditis)
Fluid around the lungs and damage to lung tissue
Pregnancy complications, including miscarriage
Severely low blood platelet count
Inflammation of the blood vessels
When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of SLE. Call your health care provider if you have this disease and your symptoms get worse or a new one occurs.

Alternative Names

Disseminated lupus erythematosus; SLE; Lupus; Lupus erythematosus; Discoid lupus
Wait while more posts are being loaded