Complications of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

Lupus, as well as medications used to treat the disease, may cause a number of complications. Complications of lupus, some of which can be severe, include the following:

  • Kidney damage (kidney failure is a leading cause of death in lupus patients)
  • Nervous system damage (e.g., headaches, dizziness, memory loss, hallucinations, seizures)
  • Cardiovascular damage (e.g., inflammation of the heart [pericarditis, endocarditis, myocarditis] and blood vessels; increased risk for heart attack)
  • Lung damage (e.g., pleurisy, inflammation of the lungs [pneumonitis], scarring of the lungs [pulmonary fibrosis or interstitial lung disease])
  • Damage to bones (avascular necrosis caused by diminished blood supply to the bones, and osteoporosis where the bones become brittle and can fracture or break)
  • Increased risk for cancer (especially non-Hodgkin's lymphoma)
  • Increased risk for infection (caused by the disease as well as the medications used to treat the disease)
  • During pregnancy, women with SLE have an increased risk for miscarriage and complications, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Fortunately, though, women whose SLE has been well controlled for 6 months prior to becoming pregnant have a chance for successful pregnancy outcome that is similar to women who do not have SLE. Women with lupus also may not tolerate some types of birth control (e.g., birth control pills) well.

Publication Review By: Donald E. Thomas, Jr., M.D., FACP, FACR, RhMSUS, CCD

Published: 01 Jun 2006

Last Modified: 27 Jan 2015