What is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)?
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation of various tissues throughout the body. SLE occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs, causing inflammation. Because the autoantibodies can affect tissues throughout the body, SLE can affect the skin, heart, lungs, joints, central nervous system, blood vessels, etc.
What are the symptoms of SLE?
Clinical symptoms of SLE vary because the disease can affect different systems within the body. Depending on which tissues SLE affects, people with the disease can experience joint pain and swelling, fatigue and exhaustion, fever, skin lesions, headaches, dry eyes or dry mouth, chest pain, shortness of breath, headaches, sun sensitivity, and/or hair loss. Many people with SLE experience periodic “flares” when symptoms become worse for a period of time.
What causes SLE?
SLE is an autoimmune disorder and occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in the body. No one definitive cause has been associated with the development of SLE, but genetic predisposition and environmental exposures contribute to its development. While genetic factors predispose an individual to developing SLE, it is believed a trigger is needed to develop the disease. Some potential triggers for SLE or SLE flares include sunlight, infections, and medications.
How is SLE diagnosed?
Because signs and symptoms can vary and are often non-specific to SLE, making a diagnosis of SLE can be difficult.
The American Academy of Rheumatology has established criteria to guide physicians in diagnosing SLE. The criteria focuses on clinical symptoms and laboratory tests.
How is SLE treated?
Many patients with SLE are prescribed steroids and/or immunosuppressive medications to treat flares in symptoms or complications of SLE.
Anti-malarial drugs, such as hydroxychloroquine, are frequently prescribed to treat symptoms and prevent SLE flares.