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Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team

Updated on

What is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus?

Systemic Lupus erythematous (SLE) is a condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks normal cells (an autoimmune condition). The reason why this happens is not well understood, but certain medications, smoking and having a family member with SLE all increase the risk of a person developing this condition. SLE is more common in women than men, and tends to affect adults between 18 and 50 years of age. SLE can cause different symptoms in different people, but some common symptoms are tiredness, fever, joint pain, muscle aches, weight changes and a rash on the nose and cheeks. Treatment of this condition aims to control the symptoms and and prevent complications.


Autoimmune conditions occur when the immune system mistakenly produces antibodies (proteins which fight infections) which attack the body's own healthy cells. The reasons why this occurs in people with SLE is not clear, but it's probable that several factors combine to cause this condition. Genetics probably play a part, as SLE tends to run in families. Smoking and certain medications may also trigger the condition. Women tend to be affected more frequently than men, and most people are diagnosed between the ages of 18 and 50.


SLE can affect several parts of the body, and can cause symptoms that are different from person to person. Some people suffer more severe symptoms than other people. Common symptoms are joint pain and swelling, tiredness, fever and a rash seen over cheeks and bridge of the nose (butterfly rash) which worsens with sun exposure. Other symptoms include hair loss, mouth sores and swelling of the lymph nodes. Additional symptoms may be present, depending on the organs involved.


The diagnosis is based on clinical symptoms and a blood test positive for the antibodies of SLE (antinuclear antibodies). Blood and urine tests are performed to check for signs of kidney damage.


Treatment depends upon the severity of the disease and the organs affected by SLE. People with SLE should get advice on lifestyle factors which can improve their symptoms, such as protecting themselves against sun exposure, taking a healthy diet and an appropriate exercise routine. Joint pain can be managed in the short-term with simple pain-relief, such as ibuprofen. The immune reaction in people with SLE is treated with steroid medications together with other drugs which suppress the immune system. Other medications may be required to treat related conditions, such as to prevent kidney damage.


People with SLE should have regular medical check-ups to prevent complications from occuring. Taking measures to protect against sun exposure can be helpful for many people.

Other names for systemic lupus erythematosus

  • SLE

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