Systemic lupus erythematosus – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Systemic lupus erythematosus is also called lupus. It is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the blood vessels and connective tissues of the skin. Systemic lupus erythematosus predominantly affects women and is more common in blacks. There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 people with SLE in the UK. Women are nine times more likely to be affected than men. SLE commonly starts in the teens and 20s. There are five types of lupus are found, these ares erythematosus: systemic, discoid/cutaneous, subacute cutaneous, drug-induced systemic, and neonatal. This topic focuses on systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the most common and serious type of lupus.


It is not known why this inflammatory reaction begins, but it probably occurs because of some combination of inborn or hereditary predispositions and environmental factors. Recent research suggests that people affected by lupus may have a defect in the normal biological process of clearing old and damaged cells from the body, which then causes an abnormal stimulation of the immune system. Possible triggers include: viruses, infection, medicines, sunlight, or other environmental factors. Hormone changes may also play a role in SLE which may explain why it is much more common in women. Some people are more prone to auto-immune diseases so there may be some genetic factor.


Symptoms vary greatly from person to person. Symptoms may begin suddenly with fever, resembling an acute infection, or may develop gradually over months or years with episodes of fever, feeling unwell, or any of the symptoms discussed below alternating with periods when symptoms are absent or minimal.

Common Symptoms of Lupus

* Painful or swollen joints and muscle pain
* Unexplained fever
* Red rashes, most commonly on the face
* Chest pain upon deep breathing
* Unusual loss of hair
* Sensitivity to the sun
* Swelling (edema) in legs
* Mouth ulcers
* Swollen glands
* Extreme fatigue


The goal of treatment for mild lupus is to prevent symptom flares-when fatigue, joint pain, and rash get worse. Maintain a schedule of regular checkups with your health professional, instead of waiting until your disease flares.

For those with a combination of joint and skin problems the anti-malarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have proved useful. If these are recommended then an eye test is usually done before treatment commences. This may then be repeated once or twice a year as the drug can accumulate in the eye. If accumulation is detected on eye examination the drug will be stopped.