Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
What is SLE?
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is the most common type of lupus. SLE is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks its own tissues, causing widespread inflammation and tissue damage in the affected organs. It can affect the joints, skin, brain, lungs, kidneys, and blood vessels. There is no cure for lupus, but medical interventions and lifestyle changes can help control it.
What causes SLE?
The causes of SLE are unknown, but are believed to be linked to environmental, genetic, and hormonal factors.
What are the signs and symptoms?
People with SLE may experience a variety of symptoms that include fatigue, skin rashes, fevers, and pain or swelling in the joints. Among some adults, having a period of SLE symptoms—called flares—may happen every so often, sometimes even years apart, and go away at other times—called remission. However, other adults may experience SLE flares more frequently throughout their life.
Other symptoms can include sun sensitivity, oral ulcers, arthritis, lung problems, heart problems, kidney problems, seizures, psychosis, and blood cell and immunological abnormalities.
How is SLE diagnosed?
SLE is diagnosed by a health care provider using symptom assessments, physical examination, X-rays, and lab tests. SLE may be difficult to diagnose because its early signs and symptoms are not specific and can look like signs and symptoms of other diseases.1 SLE may also be misdiagnosed if only a blood test is used for diagnosis. Because diagnosis can be challenging, it is important to see a doctor specializing in rheumatology for a final diagnosis.
How is SLE treated?
Treating SLE often requires a team approach because of the number of organs that can be affected.
SLE treatment consists primarily of immunosuppressive drugs that inhibit activity of the immune system. Hydroxychloroquine and corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone) are often used to treat SLE. The FDA approved belimumab in 2011, the first new drug for SLE in more than 50 years.
SLE also may occur with other autoimmune conditions that require additional treatments, like Sjogren’s syndrome, antiphospholipid syndrome, thyroiditis, hemolytic anemia, and idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura.