What is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus?

Meshell Powell

Systemic lupus erythematosus is a type of autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in various parts of the body. An autoimmune disease develops when the body's immune system, designed to fight off foreign invaders such as harmful bacteria, begins to attack a part of the body. The exact causes of systemic lupus erythematosus are largely unknown, although there appear to be both genetic and environmental factors involved. Symptoms vary widely from patient to patient, but may include muscle and joint pain, fatigue, or even organ damage or failure. There is no cure for systemic lupus erythematosus, so treatment options, such as the use of medications or lifestyle changes, are aimed at controlling specific symptoms.

Swollen glands, muscle pain and joint stiffness may be signs of systemic lupus erythematosus.
Swollen glands, muscle pain and joint stiffness may be signs of systemic lupus erythematosus.

In patients with systemic lupus erythematosus, the body has trouble deciphering the difference between helpful and harmful substances within the body. This confusion causes the body to attack itself in varying degrees. Some patients may experience mild symptoms that require little to no medical treatment. Others may develop severe complications from this disease, sometimes leading to death. There is no way to predict the course the disease will take in a particular person.

Some of the more common symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus include muscle pain, joint pain and swelling, and varying degrees of fatigue. Swollen glands, fever, and nausea are also common. Some patients may experience a rash, known as a butterfly rash, across the bridge of the nose and extending across the face. Some patients with systemic lupus erythematosus may also develop a sensitivity to sunlight, seizures, or even psychosis.

Other potential symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus may include frequent nosebleeds, blood in the urine, or the development of blood clots anywhere in the body. Abdominal pain, increased sensitivity to cold temperatures, or trouble swallowing have also been reported. Visual disturbances have been noticed in some patients with this form of lupus. Patients with the most severe forms of the disease may develop damage to the kidneys, heart, or lungs.

Treatment for the symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus may include over-the-counter or prescription pain medications if muscle and joint pain are present. Steroid creams are available to treat the rashes that sometimes develop. If skin sensitivity is present, the patient should wear sunscreen and protective clothing, including sunglasses, when outside of the house. If organ damage is suspected, the patient will often be referred to an appropriate specialist in an effort to slow the progression of the disease as much as possible.

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