Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
What is SLE?
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE / Lupus), is a complicated inflammatory condition which affects various different parts of your body and causes symptoms of varying severity.
It is an uncommon disease that mainly affects women (9:1), usually of childbearing age. The disease is more prevalent in people of African, Caribbean or Asian origin.
There is no known cure for lupus but your doctors will offer you many medications to manage your symptoms and reduce the rate of disease progression to prevent further damage around your body.
What are the causes for SLE?
The cause of lupus is unknown, although it can be induced by certain drugs (e.g. isoniazid, hydralazine, procainamide, penicillamine). Certain environmental and genetic factors may trigger lupus but these are unknown. It is an autoimmune condition where the body attacks itself unknowingly. The body fails to clear cells that are dying and as a result, the body believes that these cells are ‘foreign’. It forms antibodies to destroy these ‘foreign’ cells, but these antibodies also attack normal working cells throughout the body causing the wide variety of symptoms.
What are the symptoms of SLE?
Lupus has a very varied clinical presentation and affects patients in different ways. Some of the commonest and universal features include fever and severe fatigue. Involvement of the joints is the most common feature – they may be painful and swollen. There may also be muscle pain and feeling of general sickness.
Lupus has some characteristic skin rashes, such as the butterfly rash on the face. Skin can also be sensitive to light and can be generally red and irritated.
Lupus can affect many organs around the body. The lungs, heart, kidneys, nervous system, eyes and gastrointestinal systems can all be affected with varying severity.
How is SLE treated?
There is no cure for lupus but with close communication with your doctor, symptoms can be well managed, disease progression can be slowed and the chances of organ damage can be reduced.
Medications used are ones that suppress the immune system. Hydroxychloroquine, corticosteroids and other immunosuppressant prevent the body from attacking itself and this can improve symptoms. Avoiding sunlight can help photosensitive skin and medications called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs help with joint pains and fever.