Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic, often life-long, autoimmune disease. It can be mild to severe, and affects mostly women. SLE may affect various parts of the body, but it most often manifests in the skin, joints, blood, and kidneys. The name describes the disease:
- Systemic is used because the disease can affect organs and tissue throughout the body.
- Lupus is Latin for wolf. It refers to the rash that extends across the bridge of the nose and upper cheekbones and was thought to resemble a wolf bite.
- Erythematosus is from the Greek word for red and refers to the color of the rash.
There are several different forms of lupus. SLE is the most common type and is the type of lupus that can lead to serious systemic complications. Other forms of lupus include:
- Cutaneous lupus erythematosus refers to lupus that is confined to the skin and does not affect other parts of the body. About 10% of people with this type of lupus go on to develop SLE. Discoid lupus erythematosus is a type of cutaneous lupus that produces a potentially scarring disc-shaped rash on the face, scalp, or ears.
- Drug-induced lupus is a temporary and mild form of lupus caused by certain prescription medications. They include some types of high blood pressure drugs (hydralazine, ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers) and diuretics (hydrochlorothiazide). Symptoms resolve once the medication is stopped.
- Neonatal lupus is a rare condition that sometimes affects infants born to mothers who have SLE. Babies with neonatal lupus are born with skin rash, liver problems, low blood counts and may develop heart problems.
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.