Loading icon
Press enter or spacebar to select a desired language.
Health Information Center

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

(Lupus; SLE; Lupus, Systemic)


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is when the immune system attacks its own tissues. This causes inflammation and tissue damage. It can affect the joints, skin, lungs, brain, kidneys, and blood vessels. It can range from mild to life-threatening.


The cause is not known.

Risk Factors

SLE is more common in women aged 15 to 45 years of age. It is also more common in people who are Black, Asian, and Hispanic.

Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Family history
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Celiac disease
  • Stress-related disorders


Symptoms can be mild or severe. It can affect one part of the body or many. Though symptoms can last a long time, there are often times without symptoms in between.

Problems may be:

  • Body pain, such as:
    • Headaches
    • Chest pain
    • Belly pain
    • Swollen and painful joints
  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Swollen muscles
  • Skin and other tissue problems, such as:
    • Rashes over areas exposed to sunlight
    • Hair loss
    • Mouth sores
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Problems breathing
Common SLE Rash Sites.

Facial butterfly rash is a hallmark symptom of SLE.

Lupus rashhttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=74277427si55551537.jpgsi55551537.jpgNULLjpgsi55551537.jpgNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\si55551537.jpgNULL50NULL2008-12-03258396Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. Symptoms differ for each person and change over time. This can make it hard to diagnose.

Tests that may be done include:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Images taken with an MRI scan
  • Skin biopsy


There is no cure for SLE. The goal of treatment is to reduce organ damage and manage symptoms. One or more medicines may be used, such as:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—to ease pain, swelling, and fever
  • Antimalarial drugs—to help the immune system reduce lupus flares
  • Corticosteroids—to reduce inflammation
  • Drugs to suppress the immune system—for severe lupus
  • Biologics—can help reduce symptoms in some people

Habit changes can help prevent flare ups. This can include things like staying out of the sun, limiting stress, and getting enough rest.


There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.





  • Fanouriakis A, Kostopoulou M, et al. 2019 update of the EULAR recommendations for the management of systemic lupus erythematosus. Ann Rheum Dis. 2019 Jun;78(6):736-745.
  • Song H, Fang F, et al. Association of stress-related disorders with subsequent autoimmune disease. JAMA. 2018;319(23):2388-2400.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus). National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Lupus/default.asp.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/systemic-lupus-erythematosus-sle.
  • Understanding lupus. Lupus Foundation of America website. Available at: http://www.lupus.org/answers/topic/understanding-lupus.


  • Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.