Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

What is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)?

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disorder that affects multiple organs and body systems. It can cause inflammation, pain, and tissue damage in the joints, skin, heart, lungs, blood vessels, and brain. SLE is an unpredictable and serious disease, but with proper care and treatment, many people can lead active and fulfilling lives.

Signs and Symptoms of SLE

The signs and symptoms of SLE can vary from person to person, depending on which organs or body systems are affected. The most common symptoms of SLE include:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint pains and stiffness
  • Rashes on the face, chest, and joints
  • Swelling in the joints, hands, feet, and/or ankles
  • Fever
  • Skin sensitivity to sunlight
  • Anemia
  • Mouth sores
  • Hair loss

Causes and Risk Factors for SLE

The exact cause of SLE is unknown, but researchers believe that genetics, hormones, and environment may play a role. Risk factors for SLE include:

  • Family history of SLE
  • Being female (women are more likely to develop SLE than men)
  • Age (SLE is most common in people between the ages of 15 and 45)
  • Certain ethnicities, such as African, Hispanic, and Asian
  • Exposure to ultraviolet light (from tanning beds or sunlight)
  • Certain medications or infections

Diagnosing SLE

If you have symptoms of SLE, your doctor will likely ask about your medical history and perform a physical exam. They may also order blood tests to check for signs of inflammation and antibodies associated with SLE. Imaging tests, such as X-rays or an MRI, may be used to help diagnose SLE and look for signs of joint damage.

Treatment for SLE

Treatment for SLE is based on controlling inflammation and prevent organ damage. Your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following medications:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and inflammation
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to reduce inflammation and slow disease progression
  • Immunosuppressants to reduce the body's immune system activity
  • Steroids to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system

In addition to medication, lifestyle changes such as getting regular exercise and avoiding exposure to sunlight can help reduce symptoms and slow disease progression.