Diagnoses & Conditions

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

Understanding SLE

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system produces antibodies to cells within the body leading to widespread inflammation and tissue damage.

Symptoms of SLE

The most common symptoms of lupus include:

  • Extreme fatigue (tiredness)
  • Headaches
  • Painful or swollen joints
  • Fever
  • Anemia (low numbers of red blood cells or hemoglobin, or low total blood volume)
  • Swelling (edema) in feet, legs, hands, and/or around eyes
  • Pain in chest on deep breathing (pleurisy)
  • Butterfly-shaped rash across cheeks and nose
  • Sun- or light-sensitivity (photosensitivity)
  • Hair loss
  • Abnormal blood clotting
  • Fingers turning white and/or blue when cold (Raynaud's phenomenon)
  • Mouth or nose ulcers

Diagnosis of SLE

A physician will carefully review the following while evaluating a lupus diagnosis:

  • Your current symptoms
  • Your laboratory test results
  • Your medical history
  • The medical history of your close family members (grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins)

All of this information may be necessary for a doctor to make a diagnosis of lupus.

A variety of laboratory tests are used to detect physical changes or conditions in your body that can occur with lupus. Each test result adds more information to the picture your doctor is forming of your illness. However, for a number of reasons listed below, laboratory tests alone cannot give a definite "yes" or "no" answer:

  • No single laboratory test can determine whether a person has lupus
  • Test results that suggest lupus can be due to other illnesses or can even be seen in healthy people
  • A test result may be positive one time and negative another time
  • Different laboratories may produce different test results

If multiple criteria are present simultaneously, a physician may reach a lupus diagnosis. If, however, as is often the case, symptoms develop gradually over time, the diagnosis may not be as obvious, and consultation with a rheumatologist may be needed.

Treatment of SLE

Common drugs used to treat lupus, particularly symptoms such as fever, arthritis or pleurisy, generally improve within several days of beginning treatment. For many people with lupus, an anti-inflammatory drug may be the only medication they need to control their lupus. Commonly prescribed medications include:

  • Aspirin
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin®), naproxen (e.g., Naprosyn®), indomethacin (e.g., Indocin®), nabumetone (e.g., Relafen®), and celecoxib (e.g., Celebrex®).
  • Corticosteroids
  • Antimalarials
  • Immunosuppressives (immune modulators)
  • Cyclophosphamide (e.g., Cytoxan®)
  • Methotrexate
  • Azathioprine (e.g., Imuran®)
  • Anticoagulants
  • Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs)

If Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is not controlled by commonly prescribed medications, your healthcare provider may prescribe immune globulin therapy administered into the blood stream intravenously (IVIG).

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The information provided on this website is not medical advice, nor is it intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with questions concerning a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice, or delay seeking it based on information provided on this website.