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What Is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus?

The most common type of lupus, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune disease. Normally, the immune system fights off viruses and bacteria to help keep the body healthy. For reasons that are not yet well understood, SLE causes the immune system to incorrectly identify healthy tissues as foreign invaders and then attack those tissues.

Scientists don’t know exactly what causes systemic lupus erythematosus, but they believe various genetic and environmental factors may contribute to its development.

What Are the Symptoms of SLE?

The symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus can vary based on the specific parts of the body affected – such as the skin, joints, muscles, kidneys – and often change over time. Some common symptoms include:

  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Headaches
  • A “butterfly” skin rash across the cheeks and nose
  • Hair loss
  • Anemia
  • Blood-clotting issues
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon (finger hypersensitivity to cold temperatures)
  • Abnormal protein loss in the urine
  • Kidney problems

Phases of mild symptoms often alternate with periods of worsening symptoms. In many cases, the symptoms can be effectively managed with treatment.

How Is SLE Treated?

Treatment for systemic lupus erythematosus can vary based on the severity of the symptoms and the parts of the body affected. Some options include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for joint pain and stiffness
  • Corticosteroids to minimize the immune system response
  • Antimalarial drugs for joint and skin problems
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and targeted immune system agents for severe symptoms
  • Intravenous immunosuppressant therapy when the disease attacks vital organs (kidney, heart, brain, etc.)

Because stress is a known trigger for SLE symptoms, a physician may recommend lifestyle changes to help reduce tension and anxiety. An appropriate preventive care plan, which may include cardiac screenings and certain immunizations, may also be suggested to help prevent complications of SLE.

If you’d like to meet with a rheumatologist at Advanced Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine to explore your options for managing your systemic lupus erythematosus symptoms, contact us to request an appointment at our state-of-the-art orthopedic institute in Houston, TX.