What is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus?
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (also known as SLE or lupus) is a disease of the immune system. The immune system’s role in the body is to fight infections such as bacteria or viruses. In lupus, the body’s immune system attacks the person’s own cells, tissues and organs. It can affect the whole body including the skin, joints, heart, liver, kidneys and lungs.
The cause of lupus is unknown. It is thought to be caused by many different genes, along with environmental factors. There is no single test or symptom which diagnoses lupus. The signs and symptoms seen in lupus are also seen in many other diseases. There are 11 main signs and symptoms of lupus, and if a person has four or more of these symptoms it is likely that person has lupus.
- Malar "butterfly" rash, a rash on cheeks and nose)
- Scaly disk-shaped rash on the head, neck or chest
- Photosensitivity (sensitivity to the sun)
- Sores in mouth or nose
- Pleuritis or pericarditis, which is inflammation of the lungs or heart
- Kidney problems, such as blood or protein in the urine
- Brain problems, such as seizures or mental problems
- Low white or red cell blood counts, or low platelet count
- Positive ANA
- Other autoantibodies being positive, such dsDNA or SS-A
Unfortunately, there is no cure for lupus. In the treatment of lupus, we try to calm the overactive immune system. Controlling the immune system helps control the inflammation, resulting in fewer symptoms. The main medication used to treat lupus is steroids, such as prednisone. They are used in higher doses to quickly decrease the symptoms of lupus. Doses are decreased as soon as symptoms are controlled and lab tests improve. Sometimes a low dose of a steroid is all that is needed to control the symptoms of lupus.