Encyclopedia Home / S / Systemic lupus erythematosus

Systemic lupus erythematosus

  • Definition

    Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune disorder. SLE may affect the skin, joints, kidneys, and other organs.


    Alternative Names

    Disseminated lupus erythematosus; SLE; Lupus; Lupus erythematosus


    Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    SLE (lupus) is an autoimmune disease. This means there is a problem with the body's normal immune system response.

    Normally, the immune system helps protect the body from harmful substances. But in patients with an autoimmune disease, the immune system cannot tell the difference between harmful substances and healthy ones. The result is an overactive immune response that attacks otherwise healthy cells and tissue. This leads to long-term (chronic) inflammation.

    The underlying cause of autoimmune diseases is not fully known.

    SLE may be mild or severe enough to cause death.

    SLE affects nine times as many women as men. It may occur at any age, but appears most often in people between the ages of 10 and 50. African Americans and Asians are affected more often than people from other races.

    SLE may also be caused by certain drugs. For information on this cause of SLE, see drug-induced lupus erythematosus.