Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE): Causes, Symptoms, treatment

You might wonder what Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is. This isn’t one of the easiest medical conditions to pronounce but not to worry, at the end of this article,you would understand what this condition is about. Then we can teach you to pronounce it.

What is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)?

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is a disease that is caused by the immune system attacking its own tissues. Lupus for short, can affect the joints, the kidneys, the skin, the blood cells, the heart, brain and lungs.

The word systemic means affecting many systems. Lupus means wolf; in this case, resembling the bite of a wolf. Erythematosus means reddening of the skin. It is also noteworthy that this is an autoimmune disease meaning a case of the “body fighting itself”.

According Boston University School of Public Health, systemic lupus erythematosus affects black women in the United states more frequently than people of any other race and sex. The risk of also developing the disease increases with smoking.

What causes Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)?

The cause of this condition is not known but there are factors that can make a person more prone to having this condition. These include
1. Genetics: This means it runs in the blood. That is, it can be passed down from generations to generation through the genes.
2. Exposure to Ultra violent (UV) radiation. Sunscreen can be protective against UV radiation.
3. Some drugs like hydralazine, isoniazid, etc
4. Exposure to Epstein Barr Virus
5. Estrogen (which would explain why it is more common in women before menopause).

So what exactly goes wrong in SLE?

When a person with genes that make them susceptible to SLE is exposed to any of the factors listed above let’s take for instance UV radiation from sunlight, it leads to the programmed death of the cell
(think of this like a cell suicide). This exposes the content of the cells including the nucleus to the other parts of the body.

Because of the presence of the susceptibility gene, the body sees this exposed nucleus (nuclear antigen) as a foreign substance and this causes the immune system to produce antibodies (soldiers) to fight it. These antibodies are called anti-nuclear antibodies because just like we stated earlier, they fight the nucleus. This antigen-antibody complex formed in this process is deposited in organs like the skin, heart, kidneys, and lungs which leads to swelling of those organs (what we call local inflammation), eventually hypersensitivity reactions and the symptoms of the condition.

Story of an SLE Warrior

systemic lupus erythematosus SLE
Story Credit: Outer Shell Africa

Hi! My name is Moyo Fagbenro and I have Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus). It’s a chronic condition where the immune system attacks the body and can affect any organ. 

My skin was the first organ under attack, I lost all my hair and have skin lesions all over visible areas – face and arms. It may matter to some people. I wouldn’t pretend as if I haven’t lost relationships or been judged harshly because of the way I look. But on the flip side I have built stronger relationships with others and believe it or not feel amazing. Granted I have my bad days, but I also have wonderful days that reminds me that I live by grace and I have a strength that comes from my trust in Christ. You may see scars, but I see evidences of healing.

Proudly a butterfly warrior

Symptoms of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

The symptoms vary from person to person and involve many parts of the body.
1. Fever
2. Weakness
3. Joint pain commonly the joints in the palm, wrists, and knees
4. Reddish rash on the cheeks and the nose just similar to the shape of a butterfly
5. Photosensitivity
6. Discoid rash
7. Recurrent pleurisy
8. Patchy consolidation of the lungs
9. Pericarditis

Other symptoms include
1. Oral ulcers
2. Vomiting
3. Weight loss
4. Hypertension because of affectation of kidneys
5. Protein in urine
6. Epilepsy
7. Stroke

  1. Increase in spleen size
  2. Myositis
  3. Psychosis, etc

Prevention of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

The main preventive measure is avoidance of sun exposure or application of sunscreens as well as protective clothing while going outdoors. Read more about sunscreens here.

Treatment of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

The treatment of SLE depends on the symptoms in mild cases . This means administration of :
– NSAIDs and other Analgesics for joint pain and pleurisy
– barrier creams and topical steroids for rashes
– Antimalarials (hydroxychloquine) for joint and skin manifestations

In chronic conditions, Steroids and cytotoxic drugs may be used.

In conclusion, SLE is an autoimmune, inflammatory, Multi-system disorder. It often presents like malaria or typhoid and as a result of this, patients often present late because they keep going to chemists where they are treated for “malaria-typhoid syndrome” till their organs are severely damaged.

See a doctor immediately if you keep having “malaria-typhoid-malaria”! It could just be SLE and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

So back to the pronunciation, it is called systemic loo-pus eri-te-me-to-sus. Hope this helps!

Feel free to ask any questions below


  • Onwuchekwa Olamma Olivia attended the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH in Ituku Ozalla, Enugu State, Nigeria.

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top