Healthy Living

What is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus?

What is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus?

Key Takeaways

  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects several systems of the body.
  • SLE is also known as discoid lupus or disseminated lupus erythematosus.
  • Most common clinical features are painful joints and rashes.
  • Butterfly rash is characteristic of SLE.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects several systems of our body. SLE is also known as discoid lupus or disseminated lupus erythematosus. 

How common is SLE?

Out of all the types of lupus, SLE is the most common form. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is a very common disease occurring throughout the world, and it is about nine times more likely to develop in females compared to males. The most common age of onset is between 20 years old to 40 years old. 

What causes SLE?

  1. Genetic factors – There is no exact gene identified that is responsible for the disease. However, there are about 20 genes that have been identified to have a link to the development of SLE. A patient with SLE will be related to someone who has an autoimmune disease.
  2. Sex – Females are more likely to develop the disease.
  3. Hormonal status – Females of the premenopausal stage are more at risk.
  4. Drugs – Certain medications like penicillamine, isoniazid and hydralazine can cause a mild form of SLE.
  5. Exposure to Ultra violet light can induce flares of SLE.
  6. Exposure to Epstein Barr virus has also been found to trigger SLE.

Signs and symptoms

The clinical features of SLE will greatly vary between patients.

In addition, SLE affects many systems of the body and the symptoms will depend on the system affected. 

  • Joints and muscles – Painful joints are the most common clinical feature of SLE.
  • Skin – The skin is affected in about 85% of patients and the butterfly rash on the face and across the nasal bridge is a characteristic feature of SLE.
  • Lungs – About 50% of the patients with SLE can have lung involvement.
  • Gastrointestinal system – Painless mouth ulcers may develop.

Diagnosing SLE

When you visit your doctor, he or she will take a complete history from you and do a full physical exam to look for characteristic signs of SLE. Although there is no single test available to diagnose SLE, there are several screening investigations that can be done that will help to reach a proper diagnosis.

Tests include:

  • Full blood count
  • Antibody tests
  • Urine tests
  • Chest X-ray

Can SLE be treated?

There is no cure for SLE but several drugs are available to relieve the symptoms. The treatment will vary depending on the individual and on the severity of the disease. 

  • Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) – for fever and pain relief.
  • Topical corticosteroids for skin lesions.
  • Anti-malarial drugs for mild skin disease, fatigue, and joint problems.
  • Intra muscular injections of corticosteroids for severe bouts of joint pain.