What is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus?
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune condition and belongs to a group of conditions known as autoimmune disorders. These are disorders in which antibodies (proteins in the blood which are designed to isolate and attack foreign materials such as viruses and bacteria) attack cells of the body’s own tissues. In doing so, an inflammatory reaction results (SLE is primarily a disease of inflammation); this is usually a temporary effect, but permanent damage may occur.
The connective tissue in a variety of organs may be affected by these antibodies, as the antibodies can attach to certain proteins in the body and this can lead to widespread damage. (Connective tissue is the tissue that binds and gives strength to many parts of the body such as the skin, joints, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels). Therefore SLE is sometimes referred to as a connective tissue disease (but many other structures in the body can also be affected).
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE (affecting the musculo-skeletal system and internal organs) is part of a wider family of conditions but is the most common. The wider family of conditions is a spectrum of conditions which includes:
- Discoid lupus erythematosus
- Drug-induced lupus erythematosus
- Anti-phospholipid Syndrome
- Overlap autoimmune conditions
This guidance deals largely with SLE.
SLE can present as:
- Skin rash
- Musculoskeletal symptoms – Joint pain (arthralgia) and muscle pain, non- erosive swelling, and tendon and ligament inflammation (e.g. Jaccoud’s Arthropathy)
- General malaise, including fatigue
- Kidney involvement - glomerulonephritis Kidney Disorders
- Other widespread and variable clinical manifestations can occur in the brain, lungs, heart, as well as accelerated atherosclerosis.
Different people are affected differently too. In some people, the condition only has nuisance value, whereas in others, there will be considerable effects which may be life-threatening.
It is a chronic condition which normally relapses (in the form of “flare- ups”), and remits. The tissues affected may or may not completely recover from the damage to which they have been subjected.