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Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

(Lupus; SLE; Lupus, Systemic)



Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a problem with the immune system. It causes the immune system to make antibodies that attack the body's healthy cells and tissue. There are many forms of lupus, but SLE is the most common.


Causes    TOP

The cause is unknown.


Risk Factors    TOP

SLE is more common in women aged 15-45 years old. It is also more common in people who are Black, Asian, and Hispanic.

Other factors that raise your risk are:


Symptoms    TOP

Symptoms can be mild or very severe. It can affect one part of the body or many. Though symptoms can be lasting, there are often times without symptoms in between.

You may have:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever without signs of infection
  • Weight loss
  • Swollen and painful joints
  • Swollen muscles
  • Skin rashes over areas exposed to sunlight, especially a butterfly shaped rash over the nose and cheeks
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Mouth sores
  • Hair loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Belly pain
  • Problems breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches

Common SLE Rash Sites

Lupus rash

Facial butterfly rash is a hallmark symptom of SLE.

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Diagnosis    TOP

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Symptoms differ for each person and change over time, making it hard to diagnose.

You may have:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Images taken with an MRI scan
  • Skin biopsy

Treatment    TOP

SLE can’t be cured. Symptoms can be managed with medicines and lifestyle changes. Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. It will depend on the severity and location of your symptoms.


There are many medicines that are used, such as:

  • Antimalarial drugs
  • Corticosteroids
  • Drugs to suppress the immune system
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Estrogens
  • B-cell therapy
  • Blood thinners

You may need to take more than one of these medicines.

Preventing Flare-ups

Some changes can help you prevent flare-ups. Changes to your medicines may also be used to prevent them. Work with your doctor to make a plan. This may mean that you:

  • Learn the signs of a flare-up and call your doctor right away
  • Get treatment for any cuts or infections right away
  • Manage symptoms for other chronic health problems
  • Avoid sun exposure
  • If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Limit stress
  • Get enough rest
  • Exercise regularly if your doctor says it is okay

Chronic Care    TOP

SLE is best managed with strong communication between you and your healthcare team. Make sure to go to all appointments as advised. Let your doctor know about any changes in your health or care program.

Depression in people with SLE is common. Surround yourself with supportive family and friends. If you are still having problems, seek counseling or join a support group.


Prevention    TOP

There is no way to prevent SLE since the cause is not known.


Lupus Foundation of America

Lupus Research Institute


The Kidney Foundation of Canada

Lupus Canada


Handout on health: Systemic lupus erythematosus. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated June 30, 2016. Accessed August 15, 2018.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115873/Systemic-lupus-erythematosus-SLE . Updated July 20, 2018. Accessed August 15, 2018.

Understanding lupus. Lupus Foundation of America website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed August 15, 2018.

12/4/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115873/Systemic-lupus-erythematosus-SLE : Hartkamp A, Geenen R, Godaert GL, et al. Effects of dehydroepiandrosterone on fatigue and well-being in women with quiescent systemic lupus erythematosus. A randomized controlled trial. Ann Rheum Dis. 2010;69(6):1144-1147.

5/6/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115873/Systemic-lupus-erythematosus-SLE : Smyth A, Oliveira GH, Lahr BD, et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of pregnancy outcomes in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus and lupus nephritis. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2010;5(11):2060-2068.

11/25/2013 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115873/Systemic-lupus-erythematosus-SLE : Ludvigsson JF, Rubio-Tapia A, Chowdhary V, Murray JA, Simard JF. Increased risk of systemic lupus erythematosus in 29,000 patients with biopsy-verified celiac disease. J Rheumatol. 2012;39(10):1964-1970.

Last reviewed May 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated: 8/15/2018

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