Disease Center

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

What is it?

Arthritis is a complex family of musculoskeletal disorders consisting of more than 100 different diseases or conditions that destroy joints, bones, muscles, cartilage and other connective tissues, hampering or halting physical movement. Lupus is one of many disorders of the immune system known as autoimmune diseases. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system turns against the body it's designed to protect for unknown reasons. Most often when people speak of lupus, they are speaking of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and it is what this article primarily is about. SLE is an inflammatory, autoimmune disease that affects nearly every organ system in the body, including the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, and central nervous system. SLE is only one type of lupus.

What are the effects?

There are myriad symptoms associated with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus). Every organ system is affected and each system can be affected in different ways. Fatigue is one of the most prominent and life-affecting symptoms. Nearly everyone with lupus experiences fatigue, and it can be debilitating. Pacing your activities and getting adequate rest can help to ease fatigue and not allow it to take over your day. Joint pain, another prominent symptom, is what most commonly initiates the first doctor visit.

How is it diagnosed?

Because systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus) affects so many different organ systems and because different symptoms are manifest at different times, the diagnosis of lupus can take a long time and may be frustrating for both you and your doctor. When diagnosing lupus, it is important to rule out other diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, that have similar features. Your doctor may complete a family and medical history, do a physical exam, take x-rays and complete laboratory tests in order to diagnose you.

What are the treatment options?

The treatment plan for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus) starts with teaching yourself about the disease and about ways you can help yourself and help your doctor. Make sure your doctor knows about any other diseases or conditions that you have, because they may affect your lupus symptoms or the medications that can be prescribed. Likewise, be sure your doctor knows about all the medications you take (prescription and over the counter), as well as all the vitamins and supplements you take. A well-rounded treatment plan may include medications, diet and exercise.

What resources are available?

The Arthritis Foundation leads the way in helping people with arthritis live better today and create better tomorrows through new treatments, better access and, ultimately, cures. We do this by:

  • Funding life-changing research that has restored mobility in patients for more than six decades
  • Fighting for health care policies that improve the lives of the millions of Americans with arthritis
  • Partnering with families to provide empowering programs and information

 If you are diagnosed with lupus, some Arthritis Foundation resources that may help you better manage and live with your disease are:

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