Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

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Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

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Systemic lupus erythematosus is a chronic autoimmune inflammatory condition where the body’s immune system produces proteins, called antibodies, which target normal cells of the tissues and organs. This condition can affect numerous systems that involve the skin, joints, brain, kidneys, heart, lungs and the red blood cells.

Systemic lupus erythematosus can be a difficult condition to diagnose because the signs and symptoms caused by the disease can mimic those of other disorders.


Systemic lupus erythematosus occurs more commonly in females, and is diagnosed in patients mostly between the ages of 15 and 40.

The condition is also more prevalent in Asians, Hispanics and African-Americans.


The cause of systemic lupus erythematosus in most cases is not known, but the condition may be as a result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors that trigger the autoimmune response leading to the disorder.

There is evidence to suggest that some people are predisposed to developing systemic lupus erythematosus when they come into contact with certain triggers. These may include exposure to sunlight, using certain medications such as those that are used to manage epileptic disorders, bacterial infections and high blood pressure, and certain infections.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus may appear suddenly or develop gradually over time. These issues can range from mild to severe in nature, and they can also be temporary or permanent problems.

In the majority of cases, systemic lupus erythematosus is a mild disease characterized by flare-ups of symptoms. The clinical picture of the disease will depend on which areas of the body are affected, but the most common signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • A butterfly-shaped rash on the face which involves the bridge of the nose and the cheeks
  • Swelling, stiffness and pain of the joints
  • Blue or white discoloration of the fingers and toes during stressful periods or when exposed to cold temperatures. This is called Raynaud's phenomenon
  • Headaches
  • Memory loss and confusion
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry eyes
  • Sun exposure causing or worsening skin lesions


As mentioned, systemic lupus erythematosus causes a clinical picture that may resemble other conditions. There is also not one single specific test that can confirm the diagnosis. Therefore, the condition will be diagnosed using a combination of the clinical picture of the disease, together with ruling out other conditions through blood tests and special investigations.

Blood tests will include a complete blood count to monitor the red and white cells, liver and kidney function tests to rule out damage to these organs, and an erythrocyte sedimentation rate to determine how fast red blood cells settle in a test tube. In this latter test, the faster the cells settle, the higher the chance of a systemic disease being present.

The anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) blood test is requested to see if there are antibodies present in the blood stream. If this is positive, then further more specific antibody tests will be requested, since people without systemic lupus erythematosus may also have a positive ANA test.


There is no cure for systemic lupus erythematosus, but the condition can be effectively managed with certain medications.

These medications include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to manage the pain and swelling of joints, corticosteroids to reduce the autoimmune inflammatory process, antimalarial drugs, and immunosuppressants in severe cases of the condition or if steroids are ineffective.

FDA Approved Medicines

  • FDA approved belimumab, sold as Benlysta, manufactured by Human Genome Sciences for the treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus ( Systemic Lupus Erythematosus ) in year 2011.