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Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

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Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

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A chronic autoimmune disorder also known as SLE (systemic lupus erythematosus) causes extensive inflammation throughout the body.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. K. Shanmuganandan

Published At August 5, 2019
Reviewed AtDecember 29, 2023


When bacteria, viruses, and other dangerous things unintentionally target healthy tissues and organs, the immune system protects the body, which can lead to sickle cell disease (SLE). Lupus is known for its unpredictable nature, as it produces adverse effects that vary in severity and can flare up intermittently. Understanding the complexities of SLE is essential, as it impacts millions of individuals worldwide, predominantly women, and often requires long-term management to control symptoms and prevent complications.

What Is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus?

Systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE, is an autoimmune inflammatory disease and the most common type of lupus. It causes widespread inflammation of the skin, blood vessels, joints, and other organs. Genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors cause this disease. A butterfly-shaped rash on the bridge of the nose and cheeks is characteristic of SLE.

What Are the Symptoms of SLE?

SLE has periods of flares and remission. During a flare, the disease actively produces symptoms. Once the symptoms go away, the remission period starts. It can cause moderate to severe symptoms during a flare-up. It can affect the kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, lungs, heart, brain, and almost all body organs. As a result, symptoms vary for different patients.

The symptoms include:

  • Skin rashes (butterfly-shaped rash on the bridge of the nose and cheeks).

  • Tiredness.

  • Fever.

  • Headaches.

  • Vision problems.

  • Hairfall.

  • Dyspnea.

  • Blood-clotting problems.

  • Raynaud’s phenomenon.

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.

  • Tender and swollen joints.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Sensitivity to sun.

  • Oral ulcers.

  • Anemia.

  • Dry eyes.

  • Memory loss.

  • Confusion.

  • Decreased white blood count.

  • Chest pain.

  • Stomach pain.

  • Limbs swelling.

As it causes symptoms of other diseases, it is often misdiagnosed.

What Causes SLE?

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), commonly known as lupus, has a complex cause involving genetic and environmental factors. While evidence suggests a genetic predisposition to lupus, it is not solely hereditary. There is evidence that genetics is involved, as those who have lupus in their family are more likely to get the disease themselves. Not every individual with a hereditary susceptibility will experience the illness.

What causes SLE remains a multifaceted issue. The exact cause is still unknown, but it is hypothesized to be caused by genetic, environmental, and hormonal factors.

The following factors can trigger it:

  • Infections.

  • Exposure to sunlight.

  • Certain medications, like antibiotics, hypertensive medicines, and anti-seizure medicines.

  • Stress and hormonal factors.

These can prompt the immune system to attack healthy cells and tissues, leading to the onset of lupus. Systemic lupus erythematosus is caused by a complicated interplay between heredity and external factors. The exact cause is still unknown, but it is hypothesized to be caused by genetic, environmental, and hormonal factors.

What Are the Risk Factors for SLE?

Some factors that can increase the risk of SLE are:

  • Being a female.

  • People between 15 and 45 years of age.

  • Race (African-Americans, Hispanics).

What Are the Complications of SLE?

SLE can affect the following organs:

  1. Kidney (Lupus Nephritis) - Inflammation of the kidneys is seen in around 35 to 50 percent of patients. If left untreated, it can progress to end-stage renal disease. It causes painful joints, muscle pain, fever, and a butterfly-shaped rash on the nose.

  2. Heart (Pericarditis) - It causes inflammation of heart muscles and membranes.

  3. Brain - If the brain is affected, it results in memory loss, dizziness, strokes, and seizures.

  4. Blood - Can cause anemia and clotting problems.

  5. Blood Vessels - Causes inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis) and atherosclerosis.

  6. The body becomes more vulnerable to infections, increasing cancer risk.

How Is SLE Diagnosed?

It is very difficult to diagnose SLE, as it causes different symptoms in different people, and there is no one test to diagnose it. The doctor might take a complete medical history and perform a physical examination.

Then he or she might suggest you get the following tests done:

  1. Complete Blood Count - It counts the number of blood cells. Lupus decreases the white blood cells and platelet count and also causes anemia.

  2. Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) - ESR is the time the red blood cells take to reach the bottom of the test tube. In systemic diseases like lupus, the sedimentation rate is faster.

  3. Kidney and liver function tests.

  4. Urinalysis - If lupus has affected the kidneys, protein, and red blood cells in the urine,

  5. Antinuclear Antibody (ANA) Test - This antibody indicates an autoimmune disorder.

  6. Chest X-ray - It might show fluid and inflammation of the lungs.

  7. Echocardiogram - It checks for inflammation of heart valves and heart muscles.

  8. Skin biopsy.

How Is SLE Treated?

The treatment depends on the signs and symptoms.

The medicines used are:


  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - Naproxen sodium and ibuprofen.

  • Immunosuppressants - Methotrexate

  • Antimalarial drugs - Hydroxychloroquine

  • Corticosteroids - Prednisone.

  • Blood thinners - Warfarin.

  • Immunosuppressants - Azathioprine, Mycophenolate Mofetil, and Methotrexate.

  • Biologics - Belimumab.

  • Rituximab.

Home Remedies:

To prevent flare-ups, try the following tips:

Go for regular check-ups.

  • Wear protective clothing, sunscreen, and sunglasses while going out.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Avoid smoking.

  • Vitamin D and calcium supplements.

  • Acupuncture.

  • Consume foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids.

What Are the Dietary Changes Needed?

People should make the following changes to their diet:

  • Limit sodium intake.

  • Reduce intake of saturated and trans fats.

  • Avoid packaged food.

  • Eat smaller portions of meat and other non-vegetarian foods.

  • Consume more plant-based proteins.

  • Consume a diet rich in potassium, like bananas and potatoes.

  • With proper treatment and alteration in the lifestyle, the prognosis is good. Go for regular check-ups to avoid flare-ups. Women with SLE can deliver healthy babies if proper treatment is given.

To know more about this illness, consult a doctor now.


Genetics can contribute to a predisposition for lupus, but hereditary factors do not solely determine the condition's development. The onset of systemic lupus erythematosus involves a complex interplay between genetic susceptibility and various environmental triggers. Understanding these multifaceted influences is crucial to comprehending the mechanisms behind the onset of lupus and developing more effective strategies for diagnosis, treatment, and potentially prevention in the future.

Frequently Asked Questions


What type of hypersensitivity reaction is the cause of systemic lupus erythematosus?

SLE is an autoimmune disorder, which makes the body’s immune system produce antibodies to attack the body, especially the proteins in the cell nucleus. The resulting inflammatory response is said to be a type III hypersensitivity response with a potential type II response.


What is usually the first signs of lupus?

Lupus causes symptoms similar to other conditions, so it is often misdiagnosed. Some of the early signs of lupus are skin rashes on sun exposure, fatigue, fever, hair loss, dry mouth and eyes, and swollen joints.


What are the 11 signs of lupus?

Your doctor will suspect lupus if you exhibit at least 4 signs of the following 11 signs:
- Butterfly-shaped skin rash on the bridge of the nose and cheeks.
- Photosensitivity.
- Mouth ulcers.
- Raised red patches on the skin.
- Swelling and tenderness in two or more joints.
- Seizures.
- Pleurisy or pericarditis.
- Low blood cell count.
- Presence of certain antibodies in your blood.
- Proteinuria.
- Positive ANA (antinuclear antibodies) test.


What are the 4 types of lupus?

The four types of lupus are:
- Systemic lupus erythematosus.
- Cutaneous lupus erythematosus.
- Drug-induced lupus erythematosus.
- Neonatal lupus.


What foods trigger lupus?

Foods to avoid to prevent lupus flare-ups are garlic, alfalfa sprouts, sugar, processed foods, red meat, trans and saturated fats, potatoes, eggplant, and tomatoes.


Is lupus a disability?

If lupus has damaged your organs to the extent that you are unable to work, then it is considered to be a disability.


Can lupus be cured completely?

No, there is no cure for lupus. It is a chronic autoimmune disease, which flares up for a time and then becomes inactive, and such episodes might occur throughout your life. But in some people, it remains active for a long time.


What happens if lupus goes untreated?

Treatment of lupus depends on the severity of the organ affected. If the affected organ is not treated with medications, it can be life-threatening.


How do you stop a lupus flare naturally?

Lupus flare can be prevented by omega-3 fatty acid supplements, herbal medicines containing ginger and turmeric, vitamin and mineral supplements, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) supplements, and hypnotherapy.
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Dr. K. Shanmuganandan
Dr. K. Shanmuganandan



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