Systematic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) Overview
SLE is an autoimmune disease that causes a chronic inflammatory condition. The inflammation triggered by SLE can affect many organs in the body, including skin, joints, kidneys, lung, and nervous system. Women (especially African-American and Asian women) have a higher risk than men for developing SLE.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Not all patients with SLE have the same symptoms. The most common symptoms are joint pain, skin rash, and fever. Symptoms can develop slowly or appear suddenly. Many patients with SLE have “flares,” in which symptoms suddenly worsen and then settle down for long periods of time. Diagnosing SLE is complicated because symptoms vary widely and can resemble other conditions. A doctor will base an SLE diagnosis on certain specific criteria including symptom history and the results of blood tests for antinuclear antibodies.
No drug can cure SLE, but many different drugs can help control symptoms and relieve discomfort. The choice of drugs depends on the severity of the condition as well as other factors. Patients with mild SLE may be helped by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) while patients with more severe SLE may require corticosteroids or immunosuppressants.
Researchers are working to develop new drugs and treatments for SLE. The FDA is considering approving a new drug called belimumab (Benlysta) and is expected to announce its decision in March 2011. If approved, belimumab would be the first drug developed specifically for treating SLE and the first new lupus treatment in over 50 years.
Living with SLE
Patients can make lifestyle changes to help cope with SLE. These include:
- Avoiding excessive sunlight exposure, and wear sunscreen (ultraviolet light is the one of the main triggers of flares).
- Getting plenty of rest (fatigue is another common SLE symptom).
- Engaging in regular light-to-moderate exercise to help fight fatigue and heart disease, and to keep joints flexible.
- Not smoking and avoiding exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke
Review Date: 02/18/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.