Last updated:05-18-2010
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Definition and causes

Lupus or SLE (formerly called LED) is a so-called autoimmune connective tissue disease. That means that the body's own immune system by mistake is attacking connective tissue throughout the body. Lumps of antibodies (special proteins from the immune system) are deposited in the connective tissue, causing an inflammation and subsequent destruction of tissue. The antibodies are targetting the heritable material (DNA) of the connective tissue, cell walls as well as red and white blood cells.
SLE  typically involves the kidneys, the central nervous system, joints, skin and blood cells. The underlying reason for the formation of these antibodies against the body's own tissues is not known.
Women are affected approximately 10 times more frequently than men, and the disease typically hits in 20 to 40 years of age. Around 300 people in every million have SLE.

Symptoms of SLE

The following symptoms are frequently seen with SLE:
  • Tenderness of the joints.
  • Light sensitivity.
  • Rash around the nose and cheeks.
  • General fatigue and loss of appetite.
In more pronounced cases the following symptoms may be seen:
  • Frothing urine.
  • Pain when breathing.
  • Small red dots on the skin.


Precautions and diagnosis

If you experience the above symptoms, particularly skin rash around the nose and soreness in many joints, you should consult a doctor, who will make a thorough examination of the body. If there is suspicion of SLE, the doctor will perform a blood test, which can examine blood cells and levels of antibodies that are characteristic of SLE. In addition, a urine sample may be checked for contents of protein and blood. If you have chest pain,  an X-ray of the chest will be performed.
If you are confirmed to have SLE, progression may be halted. You should avoid exposing your skin to sunlight, and if you are out in the sun, one should use sunscreen with a high factor. Early inflammation in the body should treated right away because of the weakened immune system. Avoid a stressful day, as it further burdens the immune system.


Treatment of SLE

There is no treatment that can cure SLE. We therefore treat the symptoms and try to reduce inflammatory responses in order to postpone chronic damage to the affected organs.


Joint pain can be treated with so-called NSAIDs. With more pronounced disease involving the skin treatment can be supplemented with hydroxychloroquine, which is also used to treat malaria. In the case of a severe inflammation, may be given glucocorticoids (adrenal cortical hormones), which suppresses the immune system. If this is not enough, the treatment can be further supplemented with a more potent immune suppressant medication such as azathioprine or cyclophosphamide.
Prognosis and complications
The disease may take different courses, and in some cases the symptoms develop rapidly and in other cases slowly. Joints, which are very affected, can gradually develop malposition. If the kidneys are involved, the prognosis is worse. During pregnancy, the risk of miscarriage is increased if you have SLE.


The vast majority can live a normal and active life with SLE. Patients with a severe form of SLE, have reduced life expectancy. In general a very large proportion of people with SLE live 10 years after the time of diagnosis.


Related articles:

Connective tissue (inflammatory connective tissue)
Polyarteritis nodosa
Polymyositis and dermatomyositis
SLE (Systemic lupus erythematosus, LED)
Temporalis arteritis and polymyalgia rheumatica



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