Overview of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects tissue and organs throughout the body (e.g., joints, kidneys, skin, heart). There are 4 different categories of lupus: cutaneous lupus, neonatal lupus, drug-induced lupus, and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). This article discusses the latter. The most common symptoms of SLE are painful, swollen joints; fatigue; various types of rashes; and fever. The severity of the disease varies from mild to severe, and the symptoms, which also vary from patient to patient, often come and go over time.

The immune system is a complex network of organs, cells (e.g., the spleen, lymph nodes, leukocytes, lymphocytes, phagocytes, B cells, CD8+ cells), and proteins that protects the body from disease and illness. It attacks foreign organisms (e.g., germs), identifies and destroys abnormal cells, and flushes dead and damaged cells out of the body. In autoimmune diseases such as lupus, the immune system attacks normal cells in the body, causing damage and inflammation.

Incidence and Prevalence of Lupus

Lupus is most common in women of childbearing age, but it can occur in men and women of any age. Approximately 90 percent of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus are women. SLE occurs about 3 times more often in African American women than Caucasian women and the condition is also more common in Hispanic, Asian, and Native American women.

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

Published: 01 Jun 2006

Last Modified: 27 Jan 2015