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Systemic lupus erythematosus

  • Alternative Names

    Disseminated lupus erythematosus; SLE; Lupus; Lupus erythematosus


    There is no cure for SLE. Treatment is aimed at controlling symptoms. Your individual symptoms determine your treatment.

    Mild disease that involves a rash, headaches, fever, arthritis, pleurisy, and pericarditis does not need much therapy.

    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are used to treat arthritis and pleurisy.
    • Corticosteroid creams are used to treat skin rashes.
    • An antimalaria drug (hydroxychloroquine) and low-dose corticosteroids are sometimes used for skin and arthritis symptoms.

    You should wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and sunscreen when in the sun.

    Severe or life-threatening symptoms (such as hemolytic anemia, extensive heart or lung involvement, kidney disease, or central nervous system involvement) often require treatment by a rheumatologist and other specialists.

    • Corticosteroids or medications to decrease the immune system response may be prescribed to control the various symptoms.
    • Cytotoxic drugs (drugs that block cell growth) are used to treat people who do not respond well to corticosteroids, or who are unable to stop taking corticosteroids without their symptoms getting worse.

    Support Groups

    For additional information and support, see lupus resources.

    Expectations (prognosis)

    The outcome for people with SLE has improved in recent years. Many people with SLE have mild illness. Women with SLE who become pregnant are often able to carry safely to term and deliver a normal infant, as long as they do not have severe kidney or heart disease and the SLE is being treated appropriately.

    The presence of antiphospholipid antibodies may increase the possibility of pregnancy loss.

    The 10-year survival rate for lupus patients is greater than 85%. People with severe involvement of the brain, lungs, heart, and kidney do worse than others in terms of overall survival and disability.


    Some people with SLE have deposits of antibodies in the cells (glomeruli) of the kidneys. This leads to a condition called lupus nephritis. Patients with this condition may eventually develop kidney failure and need dialysis or a kidney transplant.

    SLE causes damage to many different parts of the body, including:

    • Blood clots in the legs (deep vein thrombosis) or lungs (pulmonary embolism)
    • Destruction of red blood cells (hemolytic anemia) or anemia of chronic disease
    • Fluid around the heart (pericarditis), endocarditis, or inflammation of the heart (myocarditis)
    • Fluid around the lungs (pleural effusions), damage to the lung tissue (interstitial lung disease)
    • Pregnancy complications, including miscarriage and flare-up of SLA during pregnancy
    • Stroke
    • Severely low blood platelets (thrombocytopenia)
    • Vasculitis, which may damage arteries anywhere in the body

    Calling your health care provider

    Call your health care provider if you develop symptoms of SLE. Also, call if you have SLE and symptoms get worse or if new symptoms develop.