Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: Causes, Symptoms, Complications, Treatments And Prevention

Shivangi Karn

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disorder or disease of the immune system that causes acute and chronic inflammation to various body parts such as kidney, brain, heart, lungs and blood cells. It occurs when the immune system dysfunction and attacks its own tissues causing inflammation.

SLE is also known as lupus. The condition is life-threatening as it is difficult to diagnose it at an early stage due to its symptoms which are similar to many ailments. The symptoms, however, change over time and may get worse. There's no treatment for SLE, but its symptoms can be managed with proper lifestyle management. [1]

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SLE is eight times more common in women than men. Though it can affect people of all ages, it is more prevalent in people between 20-45 years of age. Take a look at its details.

Causes Of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

The exact cause of developing SLE is unknown. But there are several factors, which in combination, can cause it. Researchers believe that a family with a history of lupus are at higher risk. Their gene may combine with some environmental factors and trigger lupus. However, the study needs more research as there is only 10 per cent of SLE patients whose close relatives also have the condition. [2] Other factors include:

  • Trauma
  • Viruses
  • UV rays of the sun
  • Certain medications
  • Stress
  • Hormonal imbalance

Symptoms Of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Symptoms of SLE are very confusing as two patients with the same condition may not have the same symptoms. Some may have mild symptoms while some may have severe; in some people it may develop slowly while in others, it may flare fast. Also, in some, the symptoms may go after some time while in some it may get chronic. Common symptoms include:

  • Rash on the face on the cheeks and nose (like a butterfly) [3]
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Hair loss
  • Ulcer in the mouth or nose
  • Breathe shortness
  • Dry eyes
  • Chest pain

Severe symptoms include:

  • Kidney disease (nephritis) [4]
  • Heart disease (atherosclerosis)
  • Stroke
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Memory loss
  • Pneumonia
  • Thyroid problems

Risk Factors Of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

  • Being women (especially during childbearing age) [5]
  • Age (20-45)
  • Race (people of African, Asian and Native American)
  • Genetics (needs more evidence)

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Complications Of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

  • Infection, due to weakening of the immune system
  • Cancer
  • Complications in pregnancy such as preterm birth [6]
  • Death of the bone tissues causing condition known as avascular necrosis

Diagnosis Of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Diagnosis of SLE is quite difficult. However, some common methods include:

  • Physical examination: For rashes due to sun sensitivity, ulcers in the mouth, inflammation of the joints, hair loss, etc.
  • Blood test: To look for antibodies of lupus in a person. It includes various types of tests such as the antinuclear antibody test and anti-double-stranded DNA antibody test. [7]
  • Urinalysis: To look for signs for kidney dysfunction.
  • X-ray: To check whether lungs, liver, heart and spleen are working properly.
  • Blood cell counts: To look for any defect in the bone marrow.

Treatment Of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Treatment is entirely based on the symptoms of a person. No exact treatment methods are available, which is why other alternatives are followed to manage the symptoms. The common treatment methods include:

  • Medications: Anti-inflammatory for joint pain, steroid creams for rashes, antimalarials (such as hydroxychloroquine) to control kidney conditions and reduce inflammation and other drugs that help improve the immune system. [8]
  • Lifestyle management: It includes lifestyle changes such as avoiding sunlight and smoking.

How To Prevent

  • Wear protective gears such as sunglasses and sunscreen before stepping in sunlight.
  • Minimise alcohol intake and tobacco. [9]
  • Regular exercise to make bone strong and reduce joint pain.
  • Consume food high in omega-3 fatty acid.
  • Pay special attention to your mental health as emotional stress may worsen the lupus symptoms.
  • Talk to a medical expert before starting on contraceptive pills.

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Common FAQs

1. Is SLE disease dangerous?

SLE is a chronic condition like diabetes and hypertension. It cannot be cured but managed by proper medications and lifestyle changes. Though the symptoms of SLE can be dangerous sometimes, it is controlled by proper drugs and preventive care.

2. Can you die from lupus?

People won't die of lupus but due to its severe symptoms such as kidney failure, cognitive impairment and stroke. However, 80 -90 per cent of people live a normal life with lupus due to the advancement of medical science and lifestyle changes.

3. Can lupus be transmitted?

No, lupus is not a contagious disease and cannot be transmitted from one person to another. It is actually a defect of one's immune system.

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