Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

...less medical jargon in a 'Quick Glance' format!

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic, inflammatory autoimmune disorder. It may affect the skin, joints, kidneys, and other organs.

Symptoms vary from person to person, and may come and go. The condition may affect one organ or body system at first. Others may become involved later. Almost all people with SLE have joint pain and most develop arthritis. Frequently affected joints are the fingers, hands, wrists, and knees.

Inflammation of various parts of the heart may occur as pericarditis, endocarditis, or myocarditis. Chest pain and arrhythmias may result from these conditions.

General symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • General discomfort, uneasiness or ill feeling
  • Skin rash -- a "butterfly" rash over the cheeks and bridge of the nose affects about half of those with SLE. The rash gets worse when in sunlight. The rash may also be widespread.
  • Sensitivity to sunlight
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Arthritis
  • Swollen glands
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Pleural effusions
  • Seizures
  • Psychosis

  • Additional symptoms that may be associated with systemic lupus erythematosus:
  • Blood in the urine
  • Coughing up blood
  • Nosebleed
  • Swallowing difficulty
  • Skin color is patchy
  • Red spots on skin
  • Fingers that change color upon pressure or in the cold
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Mouth sores
  • Hair loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Visual disturbance
  • Blood disorders, including blood clots

  • Causes:
    Systemic lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disease. This means there is a problem with the body's normal immune system response. Normally, the immune system helps protect the body from harmful substances. But in patients with an autoimmune disease, the immune system can't tell the difference between harmful substances and healthy ones. The result is an overactive immune response that attacks otherwise healthy cells and tissue. This leads to long-term inflammation.

    The underlying cause of autoimmune diseases is not fully known. Some researchers think autoimmune diseases occur after infection with an organism that looks like certain proteins in the body. The proteins are later mistaken for the organism and wrongly targeted for attack by the body's immune system.

    SLE may be mild or severe enough to cause death.

    SLE affects nine times as many women as men. It may occur at any age, but appears most often in people between the ages of 10 and 50 years. African Americans and Asians are affected more often than people from other races.

    SLE may also be caused by certain drugs.

    There is no cure for SLE. Treatment is aimed at controlling symptoms. Your individual symptoms determine your treatment.

    Mild disease that involves a rash, headaches, fever, arthritis, pleurisy, and pericarditis requires little therapy. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are used to treat arthritis and pleurisy. Corticosteroid creams are used to treat skin rashes. An anti-malaria drug called hydroxychloroquine and low dose corticosteroids are sometimes used for skin and arthritis symptoms.

    You should wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and sunscreen when in the sun.

    Severe or life-threatening symptoms often require treatment by a rheumatologist and other specialists in the specific area. Corticosteroids or medications to decrease the immune system response may be prescribed to control the various symptoms. Some health care professionals use cytotoxic drugs to treat people who do not respond well to corticosteroids or who must use high doses of corticosteroids.

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    ...less medical jargon in a 'Quick Glance' format!