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Lupus Basic Fact Sheet

Basic facts are presented below for individuals with general questions about lupus. For more detailed information, please visit the lupus detailed fact sheet.

Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that triggers inflammation in different tissues of the body. Autoimmune diseases happen when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. The most common type of lupus is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which affects different parts of the body including internal organs.

 

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) 

What is SLE? 

SLE is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks its own tissues and causes widespread inflammation and tissue damage in the affected areas. SLE affects the joints, skin, brain, lungs, kidneys, and blood vessels. There is no cure for lupus, but medical interventions and lifestyle changes can help control it.

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How Serious is SLE?

The seriousness of SLE can range from mild to life-threatening. The disease should be treated by a doctor or a team of doctors who specialize in care of SLE patients.

What Causes SLE?

The causes of SLE are unknown but are believed to be linked to environmental, genetic, and hormonal factors.

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What are the Signs and Symptoms? 

People with SLE may experience fatigue, pain or swelling in joints, skin rashes, and fevers. Severity of the disease can range from mild to life threatening. SLE symptoms may affect people differently. Among some people, having a period of SLE symptoms (called flares) may happen every so often, sometimes even years apart, and go away at other times (called remission). However, others may experience SLE flares more frequently throughout their life.

Other symptoms can include sun sensitivity, oral ulcers, arthritis, lung problems, heart problems, kidney problems, seizures, psychosis, and blood cell and immunological abnormalities.

What are the Complications of SLE? 

SLE can limit a person’s physical, mental, and social functioning. These limitations experienced by women and men with SLE can affect their quality of life, especially if they experience fatigue. 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 reported being employed.

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SLE Diagnosis

 

How Many People Get SLE? 

The most recent estimate of the number of people with SLE indicated that up to 322,000 have definite or probable SLE. The study was based on 2005 publication estimates. CDC has undertaken research to provide more recent and better estimates of the number of cases of SLE in certain US regions.

 

How Is SLE Diagnosed? 

SLE is diagnosed by a doctor using symptom assessments, physical examination, X-rays, and lab tests. Diagnosis can be challenging and often delayed, so it is important to see a doctor specializing in rheumatology for a diagnosis. Rheumatologists, as well as researchers, often use specific criteria for diagnosis. See the American College of Rheumatology Classification Criteria of SLE.

SLE may be hard to diagnose because its signs and symptoms are not specific and look like signs and symptoms of other diseases. Alternatively, SLE may be diagnosed too easily when only a positive blood test is used for diagnosis.

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Who Is At Risk for SLE? 

SLE can affect people of all ages including children. However, women of childbearing ages—15 to 44 years—are at greatest risk of developing SLE.  Men are at lower risk. Minority and ethnic groups, including blacks/African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asians, and American Indians/Alaska Natives, are affected more than whites.

 

Does SLE Run in Families? 

Most people with SLE do not have family members with the disease. However, some people with SLE do have a family history of the disease. Men and women with an immediate family member with SLE are at only slightly higher risk for the disease.

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SLE Treatment 

 

How Is SLE Treated? 

SLE treatment consists primarily of drugs that inhibit or prevent activity of the immune system (e.g., hydroxychloroquine and corticosteroids [prednisone]). In 2011, the FDA approved belimumab, the first new drug for SLE in more than 50 years.  

 

CDC Activities 

 

What is CDC Doing? 

CDC has previously funded five lupus registries and the development of a public health agenda to guide public health efforts. Currently, CDC is funding work on several SLE-relevant activities, such as three follow-up studies and research for self-management. For more information, visit the CDC-funded activities page.

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Other Types of Lupus

SLE is the most common and most serious type of lupus. Other types of lupus include

  • Cutaneous lupus  (skin lupus) is lupus that affects the skin in the form of a rash or lesions. This type of lupus can occur on any part of the body, but usually appears where the skin is exposed to sunlight. 
  • Drug-induced lupus is similar to SLE, but occurs as the result of an overreaction to certain medications. Symptoms usually occur 3 to 6 months after starting a medication, and disappear once the medicine is stopped.  Learn more about drug-induced lupus on the Medline Plus website.
  • Neonatal lupus occurs when an infant passively acquires auto-antibodies from a mother with SLE. The skin, liver, and blood problems resolve by 6 months, but the most serious sign—congenital heart block—requires a pacemaker and has a mortality rate of about 20%.

Additional Information 

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Sources

  1. Dall’Era M.  Chapter 21. Systemic lupus erythematosus. In: Imboden JB, Hellman DB, Stone JH. (Eds). Current Rheumatology Diagnosis and Treatment. 3rd ed. New York, NY:McGraw-Hill; 2013.
  2. Lawrence RC, Felson DT, Helmick CG, et al. Estimates of the prevalence of arthritis and other rheumatic conditions in the United States: Part II. Arthritis Rheum. 2008;58(1):26-35. abstract 
  3. Helmick CG, Felson DT, Lawrence RC, et al. Estimates of the prevalence of arthritis and other rheumatic conditions in the United States: Part I. Arthritis Rheum. 2008;58(1):15-25. PubMed PMID: 18163481. doi: 10.1002/art.23177. abstract

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