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Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
Health Guide
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic auto-immune disease. The cause is unknown but it is believed that genetic factors are contributory, and possibly, a viral infection may initiate the disease. It is usually life-long, an unfortunately potentially fatal disease.Signs & Symptoms

It is the most common connective tissue disorder and is characterized by unpredictable outbreaks and remissions. It is a multisystem disease which can involve the joints, skin, kidney, brain, serosa, lung, heart and gastrointestinal tract.

SLE can produce a wide variety of clinical symptoms depending on what organs are involved. The classical picture is that of a young women with fever, malaise, anaemia, joint pains and a rash. 80% of patients with SLE will present with involvement of the skin or joints. A photosensitive rash also being common.

Onset & Distribution

The onset of SLE can occur at any age but predominantly affects the younger population. Disproportionately affected are women (9 times more common) and minorities (affecting 1 in 250 black women in the USA). SLE is most common in women of child-bearing age, of around 20 to 40. The disease affects about 0.1% of the population.

General management

SLE is a very severe condition and proper consultation with your doctor is necessary. Corticosteroids and other immunosuppressive agents have been used for some time as the main treatment, especially for severe or acute manifestations.

There is increasing doubt however, as to their value for long-term treatment. Most patients appear to do well either with NSAID¹s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) or very low doses of corticosteroids. For skin and joint lesions, antimalarial drugs appear to be effective. Patients with photosensitivity should avoid excessive exposure to sunlight.

There is no contraindication to pregnancy. However, there is an increased rate of fetal loss, and complications may arise during the pregnancy. Specialist care is recommended during pregnancy for women with SLE.

As there is no known cure for SLE treatment is palliative and aims to allow the patient to lead as normal a life as possible. Medications are used to control the symptoms caused by SLE and to alleviate any discomfort.

The prognosis for patients with SLE has greatly improved over the last few decades with at least 80-90% of all patients surviving ten years. This improvement reflects the general improvement in health care and medications.


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