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Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): Causes, symptoms, and treatments

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) Causes, symptoms, and treatments

What is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)?

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to attack healthy tissues in your body, especially your joints, skin, kidneys, heart, and lungs.

The cause of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is still not clear, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Environmental factors may include exposure to sunlight, certain drugs, or infections.

People with certain genes are more likely to develop SLE. Researchers think these genes make people susceptible to SLE by changing the way their immune system functions.

It can lead to serious health problems, even death if it’s not treated properly. While there’s no cure yet, the symptoms of SLE can be managed with medication and other treatments.

What are the symptoms of SLE?

The most common symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus are fatigue, joint pain, skin rash, and fever. Other symptoms include hair loss, chest pain, shortness of breath, headaches, and anemia.

SLE can also cause kidney problems and cognitive difficulties. There is no cure for SLE, but treatments can help manage the symptoms.

What causes systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)?

The cause of this ailment is not known, but it is thought that it is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

SLE can occur at any age, but it is most common in women between the ages of 15 and 45. African-American women are three times more likely to develop SLE than Caucasian women.

SLE usually begins with one or more bouts of joint pain and fatigue, which then leads to many other symptoms such as fevers, skin rashes, headaches, mouth sores, hair loss and weight loss.

More serious problems from SLE include lung damage from inflammation or infections; blood vessel injury leading to strokes; kidney damage leading to high blood pressure; and nerve damage causing weakness or numbness in hands or feet.

Patients who have had certain organ transplants may also have a higher risk for developing this condition.

Although the cause of SLE is not yet known, some studies show that people with family members who have lupus might have a greater chance of developing it themselves.

If you think you might be suffering from this condition, see your doctor right away.

Diagnosis can be made through physical examination and laboratory tests on your bodily fluids like urine or blood.

Risk factors:

Certain viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus may also increase someone’s risk for developing SLE. Exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun or tanning beds increases risk for developing skin lesions called discoid lupus erythematosus in some people who have these types of genes.

Drugs such as hydralazine, procainamide, isoniazid, chlorpromazine, penicillin, and quinidine may trigger symptoms in people who are genetically predisposed to SLE.

Infections such as influenza or mononucleosis may trigger symptoms if they occur at the same time a person has developed antinuclear antibodies — which are one of the diagnostic criteria for SLE.

Treatments for systemic lupus erythematosus:

While there is no cure for SLE, there are treatments available that can help manage the symptoms and flares. These include both medication and lifestyle changes.

Medications used to treat SLE include corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and antimalarials. Lifestyle changes that can help manage SLE include getting enough rest, managing stress, eating a healthy diet, avoiding exposure to sunlight, and exercising regularly.

When the disease is on advance stage, some of these steps may not be enough. In these cases, chemotherapy or other treatments may be needed.

There is currently no test for SLE that’s able to detect it early on, but researchers have found some potential biomarkers for diagnosing it. Some people with SLE find that their condition improves after stopping certain medications.

And in rare cases, people may go into remission without any treatment at all.

More research needs to be done before we know if there’s a way to predict how long someone will live with SLE.

As always, we encourage anyone who thinks they might have lupus to speak with their doctor as soon as possible.

How to diagnose it?

There is no one test to diagnose SLE. Instead, doctors look at the person’s symptoms and medical history. They may also do a physical exam and order blood tests and other lab tests.

Doctors may also use imaging tests to look for signs of organ damage. One type of imaging test, called a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, measures how well your cells are taking up sugar.

In people with lupus, sugar uptake is decreased in certain areas of the body.

Another type of imaging test called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can show changes in tissues due to inflammation or scarring caused by lupus.

A doctor may also perform an ultrasound to examine any part of the body that might be causing pain. A skin biopsy is done if there are patches on the skin or unexplained bruises.


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune disease and it can affect any part of your body. The main cause of SLE is still not known, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Symptoms of SLE can vary from mild to severe and can include fatigue, joint pain, rash, fever, and kidney problems. There is no cure for SLE, but treatments can help manage the symptoms.

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