Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 2002 Arthritis Conference Report

William C. Shiel, Jr., MD, FACP, FACR, Editor of the  Arthritis Center, Gives Perspectives Of Interest On Systemic Lupus Erythematosus From 2002 Annual Scientific Meeting Of The American College Of Rheumatology.


Lupus is a chronic inflammatory condition that is caused by autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases are illnesses that occur when the body's tissues are attacked by its own immune system. The immune system is a complex organization within the body that is designed normally to fight infections and other foreign invaders. Patients with lupus have unusual antibodies in their blood that target their own body tissues. Lupus can cause disease of the skin, heart, lungs, kidneys, joints, and nervous system. Generally, when only the skin is involved, the condition is called discoid lupus. When internal organs are involved, the condition is called systemic lupus erythematosus.

Below are perspectives on key reports presented at the recent national meeting of the American College of Rheumatology:

Heart Disease

A number of research papers were presented that emphasized heart disease (coronary artery disease) as a common condition in patients with SLE. However, heart disease was shown by researchers at Stanford University not to be as common a cause for hospitalization as active lupus, infections, and kidney failure.

Dr. Shiel's Perspective: This information highlights for doctors and lupus patients to be aware of heart disease risk while we monitor for active lupus, infections, and kidney inflammation.  Not only are these problems we want to address as early as possible, but they also can lead to hospitalizations for lupus patients.

Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine) in Pregnancy

Researchers from Paris, France studied 101 female patients with lupus who were taking hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) during pregnancy and for at least 6 months prior to pregnancy. They found no increase in birth defects compared with the general population and had no visual or hearing side effects of the drug in these patients.

Dr. Shiel's Perspective: When I first began rheumatology practice, now two decades ago, the standard of care was to discontinue hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) at least 3 months prior to pregnancy in women with lupus. Now more and more research studies are showing that hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) is not only effective in keeping lupus quiet, but it is also relatively safe throughout pregnancy.

For more information, please visit the Arthritis Center.

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