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Symptoms of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:

Condition InDepth

Symptoms of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

Problems from SLE range from mild to severe. A person may have problems in only one part of the body or many. SLE differs from person to person. Symptoms often flare up and then go away. They may be lasting in some people. SLE may cause:

  • General problems, such as:
    • Tiredness
    • Headaches
    • Fever without signs of infection
    • Swollen lymph nodes around the throat
    • Weight loss or lack of hunger
  • Mouth problems, such as sores
  • Muscle and bone problems, such as:
  • Skin problems, such as:
    • A butterfly-shaped rash over the nose and cheeks (a key sign)
    • Sensitivity to sunlight
    • Hair loss
    • Raynaud phenomenon —poor blood flow that causes numbness, or blue or white fingertips when a person is cold
    • A red or purple rash
    • Hives
  • Heart and lung problems, such as chest pain and problems breathing
  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, or belly pain
  • Kidney problems, such as blood in the urine or swelling
  • Neuropsychiatric problems, such as:
    • Mental health problems, such as depression
    • Seizures
    • Peripheral neuropathy —nerve pain or numbness
    • Swelling around one or both sides of the spinal cord, which may cause pain, stiffness, and problems moving
A Key Sign of SLE.

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SLE Problems

Over time SLE can lead to:

  • Kidney disease—Long term swelling can harm structures in the kidney. This keeps them from working the way they should.
  • Heart disorders—Swelling can affect tissue of the blood vessels, heart, and heart valves. This can lead to heart problems, such as high blood pressure , heart failure , heart attack , or stroke .
  • Breathing problems—Chronic swelling can harm and scar the tissue of the lungs or the lining around them. This makes it hard to get oxygen into the blood. It can cause chest pain or a hard time breathing.
  • Brain disorders—Swelling of nerves can lead to headaches , mood problems, cognitive impairment , psychosis , and seizures .
  • Blood disorders—Swelling can also lead to damage of blood cells and anemia (low red blood cells), thrombocytopenia , leukopenia, or a greater risk of blood clots (which can lead to heart attack or stroke).

SLE may also cause problems during pregnancy. There may be a flare-up of symptoms, kidney problems, or a type of high blood pressure called pre-eclampsia . There is also a greater risk of premature birth , stillbirth , miscarriage , or growth problems with the baby in the womb.


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  • 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.