What Is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)?
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a systemic autoimmune disease that affects many parts of the body. Affected organs (the joints, skin, brain, lungs, kidneys, and blood vessels) get inflamed and can incur extensive tissue damage. SLE is a type of lupus that occurs most commonly—about 70% of those with lupus have it. It is not contagious or infectious. It is often misdiagnosed by medical practitioners and lastly, the cause is unknown.
How Perilous Is SLE?
The hazards of SLE can be categorized from mild to life-threatening. The disease should be treated by a physician or a team of healthcare practitioners who specialize in the care of SLE patients. People with lupus that receive proper medical and preventive care and proper knowledge or education can significantly improve function and quality of life.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of SLE?
Signs and symptoms of SLE may vary from one person to another, and they may recur or develop over time. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) usually has similar signs and symptoms with different diseases, which makes it challenging or difficult to diagnose. The best-known signs and symptoms include the following:
- Skin rashes (a rash usually appears on the nose and cheeks, called a “butterfly rash”)
- Pain or joint swelling (arthritis)
- Problems with blood clotting
How to Diagnose SLE?
Diagnosing SLE is very challenging because this disease is notorious as the great replicator of other illnesses. Its signs and symptoms vary notably from one person to another person. Signs and symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus may vary over time and may aggravate some other disorders.
Several tests and examinations are required to diagnose SLE. The following data will be analyzed:
- Patient’s latest signs and symptoms
- Patient’s laboratory examination or test results
- Patient’s medical history or background
- The medical history of a patient’s next of kin (namely grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins)
- Laboratory tests or examinations cannot give a specific “yes” or “no” conclusion because:
- no sole laboratory test or examination can decide or conclude whether a person has systemic lupus erythematosus
- screening or test outcomes that suggest systemic lupus erythematosus can be likened to other illnesses or can even be seen in healthy people
- A test result may be positive one time and negative another time
- Different laboratories may produce different test results
If numerous diagnostic indicators are present concurrently, a medical practitioner may reach an SLE diagnosis or confirmation. If, however, as frequently the case, symptoms present constantly change over time, the diagnosis may not be as notable. In these cases, further consultation with a physician or a medical practitioner, specifically a rheumatologist may be needed.
How Is SLE Treated?
Treatment for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) depends on a patient’s signs and symptoms. Physicians would usually prescribe a specific diet (which food to eat or avoid) and proper stress management to prevent triggering symptoms from occurring. The medications most commonly used to control lupus include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, mefenamic acid, and naproxen may be used to treat pain, swelling, and fever associated with lupus. Stronger nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are available by prescription. Side effects of NSAIDs may include stomach bleeding, kidney problems, and an increased risk of heart problems.
- Antimalarial drugs. Medications commonly used to treat malaria, such as doxycycline, quinine, and hydroxychloroquine, affect the immune system and can help decrease the risk of lupus flares. Side effects can include stomach upset and, very rarely, damage to the retina of the eye. Regular eye exams are recommended when taking these medications.
- Corticosteroids. Betamethasone, prednisolone, and other types of corticosteroids can manage the inflammation associated with lupus. High doses of steroids such as methylprednisolone are often used to control serious diseases that involve the kidneys and brain. Side effects include weight gain, easy bruising, thinning bones, high blood pressure, diabetes, and increased risk of infection. The risk of side effects increases with higher doses and longer-term therapy.
- Immunosuppressants. Drugs that suppress the immune system may be helpful in serious cases of lupus. Examples include azathioprine, mycophenolate, methotrexate, cyclosporine, and leflunomide. Its side effects may include an increased risk of infection, liver damage, infertility, and an increased risk of cancer.
- Biologics. A different type of medication, belimumab, administered via intravenous route, also reduces lupus symptoms in a small number of people. Side effects include nausea, diarrhea, and infections. Rarely, a worsening case of depression can occur.
- Rituximab may be beneficial for a few people in whom other medications haven’t helped. Side effects include allergic reactions to intravenous infusion and infections. In clinical trials, voclosporin has been shown to be effective in treating lupus. Other potential drugs to treat lupus are currently being studied, including abatacept, anifrolumab, and others.