Conditions InDepth: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus) is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of joints, tendons, skin, blood vessels and other connective tissue, and organs. Lupus causes the immune system to produce antibodies that attack the body's healthy cells and tissue.

Components of the Immune System

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There are four forms of lupus:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)—This can affect nearly every organ in the body: joints, muscles, bones, skin, blood vessels and blood cells, brain and nerve tissue, heart, lungs, kidneys, stomach and intestines, and eyes. It also causes total body symptoms like fever, fatigue, and weight loss.
  • Lupus confined to the skin—called discoid lupus erythematosus and subacute lupus erythematosus
  • Drug-induced lupus—This form is similar to SLE but is usually caused by a drug and is curable by discontinuing the offending drug
  • Neonatal lupus—Neonatal lupus is seen in the infants of women with SLE or Sjogren's disease , and the condition usually involves the skin and liver.

The cause of SLE (lupus) is unknown. The manifestations of the disease are due to antibodies that attack the body's own tissues. Why these antibodies appear is unknown. There are certainly genetic factors involved: identical twins share the disease one-quarter to one-half of the time, and it tends to run in families. The disease may be triggered by environmental factors, such as infections or chemicals.

Antibody

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The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that approximately 1.4 million Americans have a form of lupus. Ninety percent of people diagnosed with the disease are women; 80% develop it between the ages of 15-45. Lupus is 2-3 times more prevalent among people of color, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Native-Americans.

What are the risk factors for lupus?
What are the symptoms of lupus?
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References:

Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 14th ed. McGraw-Hill; 1998.

Lupus Foundation of America website. Available at: http://www.lupus.org .

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/ .



Last reviewed May 2007 by Jill Landis, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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