Last updated date: 13-Dec-2021

Originally Written in English

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) (an autoimmune disease)

  • Autoimmune disease

  • CloudHospital

  • General Health

  • Lupus

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)

In a normal person with a healthy immune system, the body fends off dangerous bacteria and infections to maintain a healthy body by sending an army of fighting cells to kill off the attackers within your body system. The immune system can tell the difference between harmful foreign cells and your own cells. However, a person with an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakes parts of your body, like your joints or skin, as a harmful foreign element. In such a person, the body releases proteins called autoantibodies that attack healthy cells.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or commonly referred to as lupus, is a common type of autoimmune disease. SLE is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks its own tissues, causing widespread inflammation and tissue damage in the affected organs such as joints, skin, brain, lungs, kidneys, and even blood vessels. The severity of SLE can range from mild to deadly. There is no known cure for SLE, but medical treatments and lifestyle adaptations can help control  the disease.

According to the CDC, patients with SLE may experience a range of symptoms that may include fatigue, skin rashes (doctors in the 1800’s wrongly thought lupus was simply a skin rash), fevers, and pain or swelling of the joints. Other symptoms can include sun sensitivity, oral ulcers, arthritis, lung problems, heart problems, kidney problems, seizures, psychosis, and blood cell and immunological abnormalities. Among some adults, having a period of SLE symptoms called flares which may happen occasionally, sometimes years apart, and go away at other times, called remission.

SLE can have both short-term and long-term effects on a person’s life. Prompt diagnosis and effective treatments can help reduce the damages caused by SLE and increase the odds to have better quality of life. Poor access to healthcare, delayed diagnosis, ineffective treatments, and poor adherence to prescribed regimens may increase the damaging effects of SLE, causing more complications and an increased risk of fatality associated with the disease. SLE can limit a person’s physical, mental, and social functioning abilities. These limitations experienced by people with SLE can impact their quality of life, especially if they experience fatigue as it is the most common symptom negatively affecting the quality of life of people with SLE.

Many studies use employment as a measure to determine the quality of life of people with SLE, as employment is central to a person’s life. Some studies have shown that the longer a person has had SLE, the less likely they are to be a part of the workforce. On average, only 46% of people with SLE of working age report being employed. As such, it has great societal and economic impact in addition to one’s health.

Adherence to treatment regimens is often a problem, especially among young women of childbearing age (typically from young adult age to 44 years). Because SLE treatment may require the use of strong immunosuppressive medications that can have serious side effects, female patients must stop taking the medication before and during pregnancy to protect their unborn children from potential harm.

SLE is typically diagnosed by doctors during physical examinations, X-rays, and lab tests to determine matching symptoms. But it is a hard to diagnose disease, especially during the early stages. SLE may be difficult to diagnose because its early signs and symptoms are not specific and can look like signs and symptoms of other diseases. SLE may also be misdiagnosed if only a blood test is used for diagnosis. Because diagnosis can be rather difficult to ascertain, it is important to see a specialist in rheumatology for a final diagnosis. 

While it has not been proven yet, the modern diet may play a role in the rising cases of SLE in our society. A Western diet is another suspected risk factor for developing an autoimmune disease such as SLE. Consuming high-fat, high-sugar, and highly processed foods is thought to be linked to inflammation, which may set off an immune response. Also, some researchers believe environmental factors such as infections and exposure to chemicals or solvents might also be involved.

If you or a loved one has some of the symptoms of SLE, it is important to get a proper diagnosis, ideally from a specialist who can identify the disease correctly and prescribe treatments and give advice on lifestyle changes to deter the symptoms.

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