Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease that affects the entire body, including the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, brain, and blood vessels. SLE is the most common type of lupus, but the causes of it are still unknown.
Symptoms may come and go, and they can differ for each person, but the most common include: recurrent rashes, pain or swelling in joints, hair loss, sensitivity to the sun, recurrent low grade fevers, chest pain when taking a deep breath, pale or purple fingers or toes, mouth ulcers, swollen glands, and fatigue. Other symptoms may include lung problems, heart problems, kidney problems, seizures, psychosis, and blood cell and immunological abnormalities.
Although anyone can get lupus, women of childbearing age between 15 to 44 years are at an increased risk. Women of all ages are far more likely to be affected by SLE than men from an estimated ratio of 4 to 12 women for every 1 man. In addition, minority racial and ethnic groups (black/African American, Hispanic/Latinx, Asian, American Indian/Alaska Native) are affected more than white/Caucasian population.
SLE is relatively uncommon and difficult to diagnose. Although there is no cure, there are medical interventions and lifestyle changes can help control symptoms. Since it is an autoimmune disease that has overlapping symptoms with other autoimmune conditions, SLE treatment should involve a team of physicians. A rheumatologist specializes in assessing autoimmune diseases and utilizes specific criteria in diagnosing SLE.
In 2011, the FDA approved belimumab, an immunosuppressive drug that is used to treat SLE. Treating this disease mostly consists of immunosuppressive drugs that inhibit the activity of the immune system. Other medications include hydroxychloroquine and corticosteroids, such as prednisone, and they may help manage the disease by:
- Reducing swelling and pain
- Preventing or reducing flares
- Helping the immune system
- Reducing or preventing damage to joints
- Balancing the hormones
- Treating problems related to lupus, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or infection
There are alternative methods that may help treat SLE symptoms, such as eating a proper diet, incorporating daily exercise, and utilizing relaxation techniques to help cope with stress. As always, promoting a healthy lifestyle that does not involve smoking will also reduce the risk of heart disease that can be a factor of lupus.