Systemic lupus erythematosus (patient information)

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Systemic lupus erythematosus


What are the symptoms?

What are the causes?

Who is at highest risk?


When to seek urgent medical care?

Treatment options

Where to find medical care for Systemic lupus erythematosus?


What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Possible complications

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Risk calculators and risk factors for Systemic lupus erythematosus

Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Jinhui Wu, MD Associate Editor-In-Chief: Mahshid Mir, M.D. [2], Ujjwal Rastogi, MBBS [3]


Lupus is an autoimmune disease characterized by acute and chronic inflammation of various tissues of the body. It may affect the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, heart and lungs. The underlying cause of systemic lupus erythematosus is not clear. Clinical data show it affects nine times as many women as men. Common symptoms include fatigue, low fever, muscle pain, joint pain, loss of appetite, facial butterfly rash, sensitivity to sunlight, chest pain, and swollen lymph nodes. The patient may be diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus when he/she has 4 or more of 11 criteria designated by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR). Treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus depends on symptoms. The aim of medications is to relieve the symptoms and decrease the inflammation. Outcomes have improved in recent years. Now the 10-year survival rate for systemic lupus erythematosus patients is greater than 85%.

What are the symptoms of Systemic lupus erythematosus?

Symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus vary from person to person, depending the organs affected. And the symptoms may come and go.

  • Other symptoms depends on the orgnas affected.

Image courtesy of Professor Peter Anderson DVM PhD and published with permission © PEIR, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Department of Pathology

Diseases that can have similar symptoms are

What causes Systemic lupus erythematosus?

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease, which means the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. This leads to long-term (chronic) inflammation.

The underlying cause of autoimmune diseases is not fully known. SLE is much more common in women than 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, see Drug-induced lupus erythematosus

Who is at highest risk?

The underlying cause of this autoimmune disease is not clear. Clinical data show the onset of systemic lupus erythematosus is associated with the following factors:


The American College of Rheumatology has designated 11 criteria for classification. If the patient has four or more criteria, he/she can be diagnosed systemic lupus erythematosus.

  • Malar rash: This butterfly rash below the eyes may be flat or elevated.
  • Discoid rash: These are red, raised patches with scaling of the overlying skin. A subgroup of patients have "discoid lupus" with only skin involvement and do not have systemic lupus erythematosus. All patients with discoid lupus should be screened for systemic involvement.
  • Sensitivity to sunligh: A rash develops in response to sun exposure.
  • Oral ulcers: The doctor can observe painless sores in the nose or mouth.
  • Arthritis: The arthritis of lupus usually demonstrate swelling and tenderness of the joints.
  • Serositis: This means an inflammation of various "sacs" or membranes, such as pericarditis, pleurisy or peritonitis. Patients with these inflammations may demonstrate symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, or forced posture.
  • Kidney disease: Patients with lupus may demonstrate persistent loss of protein, or inflammation during analysis of the urine.
  • Neurological disorder: Patients with lupus may show paralysis, or seizures, personality change, even psychosis.
  • Blood disorder: Patients with lupus may show low blood counts of various blood components.
  • Immunologic disorder: Some antibodies tests may be positive in patients with lupus. It includes antibody tests such as anti-double strand (ds) DNA, anti-phospholipid antibodies and anti-smith antibodies.
  • Positive antinuclear antibody: It is a very valuable test to rule out lupus. More than 98% of patients with lupus have a positive ANA test result.

When to seek urgent medical care?

Call your health care provider if you develop symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus.

Treatment options

Symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus may come and go. The aim of treatments is to relieve your symptoms and decrease the inflammation.

General management:

  • Avoid sun exposure: Patients with systemic lupus erythematosus should better prevent from sun exposure. When going out, they are recommended to use sunscreen with higher SPF (at least 15). Wearing protective clothing is also an important way.
  • Keep a good sleep quality: This may help decrease fatigue in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus.


  • For patients with severe organ damage such as heart, central nervous system, kindeys and lungs, treatment team may include the rheumatologist and other specialists.

Medications to avoid

Patients diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus should avoid using the following medications:

  • Procainamide
    If you have been diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus, consult your physician before starting or stopping any of these medications.

Where to find medical care for Systemic lupus erythematosus?

Directions to Hospitals Treating systemic lupus erythematosus


The cause of autoimmune disease is not clear, there is no way to prevent systemic lupus erythematosus.

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Outcomes of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus have improved in recent years. Prognosis of systemic lupus erythematosus depends on:

Possible complications

Some people with SLE have abnormal deposits in the kidney cells. 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:

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