Health A-Z


Clinical Definition

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common form of lupus, a serious autoimmune disease that may affect the skin, heart, joints, lungs and brain. The immune system produces antibodies to the body’s own cells, which triggers widespread inflammation and tissue damage. Anyone can be affected, but this disease often strikes women of childbearing age, up to about age 45, suggesting female hormones may shape vulnerability to lupus.

In Our Own Words

Lupus is an immune system disorder that can affect many different systems since the body turns on itself and attacks its own tissues. Those affected may suffer oral ulcers, arthritis, kidney problems, seizures, photosensitivity and abnormalities in their blood. Those of African, Asian and Native American ancestry are more likely than Caucasians to be affected by lupus.

Systemic lupus erythematosus is the most common form, but other forms affect only the skin or are induced by certain drugs, such as hydralazine, a medicine to lower blood pressure. Neonatal lupus is rare and caused by antibodies from the mother affecting the fetus. Because of all of the organ systems are potentially involved, a team approach to treatment is needed, with the participation of health care providers from many specialties.

Symptoms and Side Effects

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Fever
  • Painful, swollen joints
  • Photosensitivity (sensitive to light or sun)
  • Butterfly-shaped rash across cheeks and nose
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