Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
(SLE or Lupus)

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Systemic lupus erythematosus facts

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease.
  • SLE is characterized by the production of unusual antibodies in the blood.
  • SLE is eight times more common in women than men.
  • The cause(s) of SLE is (are) unknown, however, heredity, viruses, ultraviolet light, and drugs all may play some role.
  • 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.
  • People with SLE can prevent "flares" of disease by avoiding sun exposure and 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, 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.


Patient Comments

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Lupus - Symptoms Question: The symptoms of lupus can vary greatly from patient to patient. What were your symptoms at the onset of your disease?
Lupus - Experience Question: Please describe your experience with lupus.
Lupus - Treatment Question: What kinds of treatment have you received for your systemic lupus?

Lupus Symptoms in Women

One Patient's Story

By Mr. D.R.
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

So many people have had comments like, "I had no idea Susan was so sick." That was because Susan did not want anybody to know.

Because lupus is such a crafty disease and flies under the general public's radar, this is a good opportunity to clear things up.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease, not an infectious disease like HIV. People with lupus have an overactive immune system. The body's defenses actually attack healthy tissue. This has been happening to Susan for 30 years or more.

She was diagnosed around 1990, but she had symptoms way before then. Originally, the disease would manifest itself as flu-like symptoms for about three weeks out of every three months, with fatigue extending a month after every flare-up.

In 2000, lupus attacked her central nervous system and involved her brain. The original result of this new development was pain. From late in January 2000 until the day before she died, she was in pain. On the scale of 1 to 10, there was no day that she didn't feel pain on an 8 to 10 level. (With 10 being all-encompassing.)

Lupus attacked her lungs, causing shortness of breath, sleeping problems, and more pain in the form of pleurisy. In addition to Hashimoto's thyroiditis(causing cold extremities) and Sjogren's syndrome(extremely dry eyes) and a few more isms that I have forgotten, life was getting difficult.



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