Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE or Lupus)

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Catherine Burt Driver, MD
    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD, is board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Dr. Driver is a member of the American College of Rheumatology. She currently is in active practice in the field of rheumatology in Mission Viejo, Calif., where she is a partner in Mission Internal Medical Group.

View Luspus Slideshow Pictures
Lupus picture

Lupus Symptoms and Signs

Symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, often referred to as simply lupus) can be quite different, because there are different types of lupus, and not all affected people show the same symptoms.

General symptoms associated with lupus include

  • low-grade fever,
  • loss of appetite,
  • nausea,
  • muscle aches,
  • joint pains,
  • fatigue.

More specific symptoms include skin changes (see below), ulcers of the mouth and nose, photosensitivity (sensitivity to sunlight), and decreased circulation to the fingers and toes with cold exposure.

Picture of Lupus

Quick GuideLupus Pictures Slideshow: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments

Lupus Pictures Slideshow: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments

Systemic lupus erythematosus facts

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease.
  • SLE is characterized by the production of unusual antibodies in the blood.
  • The cause(s) of SLE is (are) unknown, however, heredity, viruses, ultraviolet light, and drugs all may play some role.
  • Lupus symptoms and signs include
  • Up to 10% of people with lupus isolated to the skin will develop the systemic form of lupus (SLE).
  • Eleven criteria help doctors to diagnose SLE.
  • Treatment of SLE is directed toward decreasing inflammation and/or the level of autoimmune activity with anti-inflammatory medications for those with mild symptoms and corticosteroids and/or cytotoxic drugs (chemotherapy) for those with more severe lupus.
  • People with SLE can prevent "flares" of disease by avoiding sun exposure, not abruptly discontinuing medications, and monitoring their condition with their doctor.

What is systemic lupus erythematosus? What are the types of lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease characterized by acute and chronic inflammation of various tissues of the body. Autoimmune diseases are illnesses that occur when the body's tissues are attacked by its own immune system. The immune system is a complex system within the body that is designed to fight infectious agents, such as bacteria and other foreign microbes. One of the ways that the immune system fights infections is by producing antibodies that bind to the microbes. People with lupus produce abnormal antibodies in their blood that target tissues within their own body rather than foreign infectious agents. These antibodies are referred to as autoantibodies.

Because the antibodies and accompanying cells of inflammation can affect tissues anywhere in the body, lupus has the potential to affect a variety of areas. Sometimes lupus can cause disease of the skin, heart, lungs, kidneys, joints, and/or nervous system. When only the skin is involved by rash, the condition is called lupus dermatitis or cutaneous lupus erythematosus. A form of lupus dermatitis that can be isolated to the skin, without internal disease, is called discoid lupus. When internal organs are involved, the condition is referred to as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

Both discoid lupus and systemic lupus are more common in women than men (about eight times more common). The disease can affect all ages but most commonly begins from 20-45 years of age. Statistics demonstrate that lupus is somewhat more frequent in African Americans and people of Chinese and Japanese descent.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/9/2015
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