Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) occurs when the body’s immune system starts to produce antibodies that attacks its own organs. The reason why this happens is not known but it is likely to be caused by a combination of factors that include genetics, environmental factors (eg. Exposure to sunlight), infection or stress.
SLE is 9 times more common in women than men. Symptoms commonly develop between ages of 15 to 45, but young children and elderly can be affected too. Asians and Afro-americans are more prone to develop SLE than Caucasians, and the disease is more severe in these populations.
No two cases of SLE are exactly alike. Symptoms and signs of SLE vary according to which body systems are affected. They may suddenly appear within weeks, or slowly develop over months.
Diagnosing SLE can be challenging because the disease varies considerably from person to person, and the signs and symptoms come and go unpredictably and may overlap with other diseases. Many patients often require multiple visits to the doctor before the diagnosis is established. Evaluation involves taking a detailed history, physical examination and laboratory tests. Additional tests may be required depending on the type of body systems affected.
Common tests performed are:
Sometimes, more detailed imaging (e.g. CT scan of abdomen and lungs), skin or kidney biopsy may be required.
Patients with SLE are also at risks of developing other autoimmune diseases (e.g. Sjogren’s syndrome, anti-phospholipid syndrome) which will require further evaluation.
Pregnancy is generally safe in patients with mild SLE, but should be avoided in those with more severe disease until it is well controlled. Some drugs used for treatment of SLE may cause damage to the unborn child and need to be avoided if pregnancy is planned. To ensure the safety of yourself and your unborn child, always discuss with your doctor before embarking on pregnancy.
Coping with SLE can be stressful. People with lupus often experience anxiety, depression and frustrations.