Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Definition

A chronic autoimmune disorder in which the immune response creates antibodies that attack the cells of various organs. SLE is a type III hypersensitivity reaction (immune complex reaction) that most commonly develops between the ages of 15 and 40. Nine times as many women than men have SLE, and SLE is three times more common in African American women than women of other ethnicities.

Symptoms of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and Diagnostic Path

The symptoms of SLE vary widely in nature and severity and are often transient (come and go). Symptoms also vary depending on the affected organ systems, making it difficult to view them collectively as indications of a single disorder. The main symptoms of SLE may include

  • Characteristic “butterfly” rash across the nose and onto the cheeks
  • Fatigue, often extreme
  • Painful and inflamed joints
  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Loss of hair
  • Chest pain, particularly with deep breathing or exertion
  • Sensitivity to sunlight

The diagnostic path is one of exclusion. It can take months to years for doctors to rule out other causes of the symptoms and settle on the suspicion of SLE. Blood tests that detect antinuclear antibodies (ANAs) suggest SLE. Many people who have SLE also have other antibodies, including anti-Ro and anti-La. However, not all do, and some people have these antibodies and do not have SLE. Some people who have SLE have decreased complement factors, though other conditions can cause the same finding.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Treatment Options and Outlook

Treatment incorporates various medications, singly or in combination, that target symptoms. The most commonly used medications are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), antimalarial medications, corticosteroid medications, and immunosuppressive medications. SLE is a chronic condition that medications can regulate to permit a relatively normal lifestyle. Stress exacerbates symptoms and precipitates flareups.

Most people learn to identify when a flareup of symptoms is pending and to take appropriate interventions (medications and relaxation techniques) to mitigate their effects.

Medications to Treat Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

mycophenolate mofetilnaproxen

Risk Factors and Preventive Measures

The main risk factors for SLE are being female and being African American. Researchers do not know why gender and ethnicity influence the development of SLE. Preventive measures focus on reducing the complications of symptoms through prompt medical intervention and lifestyle practices, such as nutritious eating habits and daily physical activity, that support health.


Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) – Symptoms and Treatment
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