Ricker Polsdorfer, MD
Michael Jubinville, MPH
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease that affects tissue throughout the body. It causes inflammation and pain in the affected tissue that can lead to symptoms like fatigue, arthritis, skin rashes and fever. Over time, the inflammation can cause tissue and organ damage, leading to serious health complications. The sooner SLE is detected and treated, the better it can be managed.
SLE symptoms occur in cycles of remission with no symptoms and flare ups where symptoms are more severe. The exact symptoms and degree of severity can vary significantly between people. Some may have mild symptoms over a short period of time while others may have more severe forms that last many years. Damage that occurs during flares can persist between flares and become chronic.
There are several types of lupus based on areas of the body that are affected. SLE is the most common type of lupus that affects tissue throughout the body. Other types of lupus include:
Antibodies are created by the immune system to help identify and attack foreign items like bacteria and viruses. With autoimmune disorders, these antibodies identify and attack healthy tissue. These antibodies are called autoantibodies. The body responds to the autoantibody attack with inflammation. Long term, this inflammation causes the growth of blood vessels in the area. The autoantibodies can then pass into the bloodstream through these new vessels and travel to other organs in the body causing damage to organs like kidneys, lungs, or heart.
The exact cause of autoimmune disorders like SLE is not known, but is believed to be a combination of:
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). American College of Rheumatology website. Available at: http://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Lupus. Updated June 2015. Accessed May 16, 2016.
Lupus. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at:
http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Lupus/default.asp. Updated February 2015. Accessed May 16, 2016.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 29, 2016. Accessed May 16, 2016.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/musculoskeletal_and_connective_tissue_disorders/autoimmune_rheumatic_disorders/systemic_lupus_erythematosus_sle.html. Updated June 2013. Accessed May 16, 2016.
What causes lupus? Lupus Foundation of America website. Available at:
http://www.lupus.org/answers/entry/what-causes-lupus. Accessed May 16, 2016.
What is lupus? Lupus Foundation of America website. Available at:
http://www.lupus.org/answers/entry/what-is-lupus. Accessed May 16, 2016.
Last reviewed May 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
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