Systemic lupus erythematosus

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or often just called lupus is an autoimmune disease that typically affects women in their child bearing years. Essentially the body’s immune system attacks itself. The severity of the disease can be very mild (the most common presentation) with rashes and joint pains, to a life-threatening disease when the lungs, heart, kidneys or brain are involved. Common symptoms are shown on the figure below.

It appears that genetics are important as are other environmental factors in triggering the disease. To put this in context, if one identical twin develops SLE, the other one has approximately a 25% chance of also getting the disorder.

The name was coined by a 19th century French doctor who thought that the typical rash seen on the face resembled the bite or scratch marks of a wolf. In Latin, lupus means wolf and erythematosus means red. 


Most patients require a medication called hydroxychloroquine which treats the rashes and joint and muscle pains associated with SLE.  Sun avoidance and good sun protection is needed as too much sun exposure can trigger flares.   If the disease is more serious, then stronger immune modulating medications such as azathioprine, mycophenolate or methotrexate are used depending on the organ(s) involved. 

Regular blood and urine testing and regular assessment by a rheumatologist is usually required to monitor and appropriately manage SLE.  

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