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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.
Disseminated lupus erythematosus; SLE; Lupus; Lupus erythematosus
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:
Other symptoms depend on which part of the body is affected:
Some people have only skin symptoms. This is called discoid lupus.
To be diagnosed with lupus, you must have 4 out of 11 common signs of the disease. Nearly all people with lupus have a positive test for antinuclear antibody (ANA). However, having a positive ANA alone does not mean you have lupus in most cases.
The health care provider 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:
You may also have other tests to learn more about your condition. Some of these are:
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:
Treatments for more severe SLE may include:
If you have SLE, it is also important to:
Counseling and support groups may help with the emotional issues involved with the disease.
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:
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.
Some people with SLE have abnormal deposits in the kidney cells. This leads to a condition called lupus nephritis. People 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:
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 symptom occurs.
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Crow MK. Etiology and pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus. In: Firestein GS, Budd RC, Gabriel SE, et al, eds. Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 79.
Crow MK. Systemic lupus erythematosus. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 274.
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. PMID: 19103632 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19103632.
Reviewed By: Gordon A. Starkebaum, MD, professor of medicine, division of rheumatology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.