Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), also known simply as lupus, is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in many parts of the body.[1] Symptoms vary between people and may be mild to severe.[1] Common symptoms include painful and swollen joints, fever, chest pain, hair loss, mouth ulcers, swollen lymph nodes, feeling tired, and a red rash which is most commonly on the face.[1] Often there are periods of illness, called flares, and periods of remission during which there are few symptoms.[1]

The severity of lupus varies from mild to life threatening. Kidney problems and neurologic complications are more dangerous than the rashes, arthritis or other symptoms. After many years of having lupus, patients may develop hypertension (high blood pressure), accelerated atherosclerosis (plaque and fat build-up in the arteries), heart and lung diseases, kidney failure or osteoporosis. With proper treatment, the majority of people diagnosed with lupus have a normal life expectancy, but many will experience disabilities. Each patient will likely have his or her own specific pattern of symptoms and flares, but the disease can change over time.
The principal immunoglobulin in human serum. Because IgG moves across the placental barrier, it is important in producing immunity in the infant before birth. It is the major antibody for antitoxins, viruses, and bacteria. It also activates complement and serves as an opsonin. As gamma globulin, IgG may be given to provide temporary resistance to hepatitis or other disease.

Information on this website is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. Any third party offering or advertising on this website does not constitute an endorsement by Andrew Weil, M.D. or Healthy Lifestyle Brands.
Next, a doctor will usually prescribe a corticosteroid such as prednisone, which has a variety of unpleasant and dangerous side effects. Long term prednisone therapy can cause muscle wasting and osteoporosis, and those side effects require additional monitoring and medication. If the steroids stop controlling the symptoms, then a host of other serious medications are prescribed that either modulate or suppress the immune system as a whole. Plaquenil and belimumab (Benlysta) are some of the drugs used, and they have very harsh side effects including hair loss, muscle atrophy, blood disorders and increased susceptibility to infections.
JAMES M. GILL, M.D., M.P.H., is director of the Health Services Research Group and associate program director of the family practice residency program at Christiana Care Health Services, Wilmington, Del. Dr. Gill received a medical degree from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey–Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Piscataway, and a master of public health degree from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore....
Systemic lupus erythematosus (S.L.E.), commonly called lupus, is a chronic autoimmune disorder that can affect virtually any organ of the body. In lupus, the body's immune system, which normally functions to protect against foreign invaders, becomes hyperactive, forming antibodies that attack normal tissues and organs, including the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, heart, lungs, and blood. Lupus is characterized by periods of illness, called flares, and periods of wellness, or remission.

A healthy diet is important in general, but perhaps even more so for the roughly 1 million Americans and 3 million people worldwide who suffer from systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).1 Because of the multifaceted challenges presented by the disease, consuming adequate amounts of the right nutrients — and limiting others — can help relieve symptoms and improve outcomes.


Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) revealed regions of linkage that were found on most chromosomes.[52] These studies are useful in identifying the genes that may be responsible for complex diseases such as SLE. Candidate gene loci implicated with SLE include multiple alleles from the HLA region, Fc-gamma receptor, and complement component system.[50] However, association does not prove that a specific form of a gene is responsible for the disease, as there may be other polymorphisms in the region that have a greater association effect.[50] However, because the biological role of most genes are not completely understood, it can be difficult to attribute phenotypic traits to certain genetic polymorphisms. Since SLE is associated with so many genetic regions, it is likely an oligogenic trait, meaning that there are several genes that control susceptibility to the disease.[50] Further complicating our understanding is the association of certain linkages with various ethnic groups.[50]
It also is known that some women with systemic lupus erythematosus can experience worsening of their symptoms prior to their menstrual periods. This phenomenon, together with the female predominance of systemic lupus erythematosus, suggests that female hormones play an important role in the expression of SLE. This hormonal relationship is an active area of ongoing study by scientists.
Pain is typically treated with opioids, varying in potency based on the severity of symptoms. When opioids are used for prolonged periods, drug tolerance, chemical dependency, and addiction may occur. Opiate addiction is not typically a concern since the condition is not likely to ever completely disappear. Thus, lifelong treatment with opioids is fairly common for chronic pain symptoms, accompanied by periodic titration that is typical of any long-term opioid regimen.

In addition to the 11 criteria, other tests can be helpful in evaluating people with SLE to determine the severity of organ involvement. These include routine testing of the blood to detect inflammation (for example, the erythrocyte sedimentation rate, or ESR, and the C-reactive protein, or CRP), blood-chemistry testing, direct analysis of internal body fluids, and tissue biopsies. Abnormalities in body fluids (joint or cerebrospinal fluid) and tissue samples (kidney biopsy, skin biopsy, and nerve biopsy) can further support the diagnosis of SLE. The appropriate testing procedures are selected for the patient individually by the doctor.
Why the test is used: Abnormalities in blood cell counts, including white blood cells and red blood cells, may occur in people with lupus. This may be related to the lupus, lupus treatments, or infection. For example, leukopenia, a decrease in the number of white blood cells, is found in about 50% of people with lupus. Thrombocytopenia, or a low platelet count, occurs in about 50% of people with lupus, as well. Doctors can use this test to monitor these potentially serious problems.
The panel decided to use the body of evidence provided by observational studies because it probably better reflects reality as the RCTs are severely flawed (indirectness of population as most patients were inadequately diagnosed with APS). The panel judged the observed reduction in arterial thrombosis with high-intensity AC as a large benefit, and the bleeding increase as a large harm. Also, it was noted that the observed basal risk (risk with LDA) of thromboembolic recurrence in patients with APS and arterial events was particularly high, compared with the risk of recurrence in patients with VTD.
It also recommends intravenous Ig with/without GCs or RTX plus GCs for patients who are refractory to high-dose GCs, those with life-threatening bleeding, those requiring urgent surgery and those with infections (strong recommendation based on moderate certainty of the evidence). Cost and availability, however, may prompt the use of IS instead of RTX although there are no data to support this assertion (table 4).
Research indicates that omega 3 fatty acids from fish or fish oils may help manage high triglycerides and heart disease (see references at end of this summary). There have not been any studies, however, that show a reduced disease activity with lupus. Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids include salmon, sardines, mackerel, bluefish, herring, mullet, tuna, halibut, lake trout, rainbow trout, ground flaxseed, walnuts, pecans, canola oil, walnut oil, and flaxseed oil, and are part of a heart-healthy meal plan.
Proteinuria (also called albuminuria or urine albumin) is a condition in which urine contains an abnormal amount of protein. Albumin is the main protein in the blood. Proteins are the building blocks for all body parts, including muscles, bones, hair, and nails. Proteins in the blood also perform a number of important functions. They protect the body from infection, help blood clot, and keep the right amount of fluid circulating throughout the body.
To minimize complications in pregnancy, SLE ideally should be well controlled for at least 4-6 months before conception. Obstetricians who handle high-risk pregnancies should optimally offer pregnancy planning consultation and monitor all pregnancies in patients with SLE. Suggestions for treatment of SLE during pregnancy are also included in the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) recommendations. High-dose aspirin and NSAIDs should be avoided in later pregnancy.
The loss of self-tolerance is believed to be due to many hereditary and environmental factors and occurs when autoantigens are damaged, when they link with a foreign antigen, when the structure of a autoantigen is very similar to that of a foreign antigen (molecular mimicry), or when autoreactive T cells are not adequately controlled or are activated by nonspecific antigens. The changes in the appearance of the autoantigen or activation of autoreactive T-cells result in autoantigens being perceived as foreign. Inflammation and destruction of the tissues bearing the antigen occur because of the production of autoantibodies by B cells or the cytotoxicity of autoreactive T cells, which attack the autoantigens.

Genetic factors increase the tendency of developing autoimmune diseases, and autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune thyroid disorders are more common among relatives of people with lupus than the general population. Moreover, it is possible to have more than one autoimmune disease in the same individual. Therefore, "overlap" syndromes of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus and scleroderma, etc., can occur.


In SLE patients with serious brain (lupus cerebritis) or kidney disease (lupus nephritis), plasmapheresis is sometimes used to remove antibodies and other immune substances from the blood to suppress immunity. Plasmapheresis is a process of removing blood and passing the blood through a filtering machine, then returning the blood to the body with its antibodies removed. Rarely, people with SLE can develop seriously low platelet levels, thereby increasing the risk of excessive and spontaneous bleeding. Since the spleen is believed to be the major site of platelet destruction, surgical removal of the spleen is sometimes performed to improve platelet levels. Other treatments have included plasmapheresis and the use of male hormones.
While there is no cure for lupus, there are treatments that can help prevent flares, treat symptoms and reduce organ damage. Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to successful management of lupus. Treatment depends on the type and severity of the symptoms. Like all medications, these treatments have potential side effects. It is very important that you communicate with your health care professional about the potential benefits and potential side effects of any treatment.
Blood clots are more common in people with lupus. Clots often occur in the legs (called deep venous thrombosis or DVT) and lungs (called pulmonary embolus or PE) and occasionally in the brain (stroke). Blood clots that develop in lupus patients may be associated with the production of antiphospholipid (APL) antibodies. These antibodies are abnormal proteins that may increase the tendency of the blood to clot. Blood can be tested for these antibodies.

Inflammation of the lining surrounding the lungs, or pleuritis, can occur in people with lupus. This can cause symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath, says Luk. The pain can worsen when taking a deep breath, sneezing, coughing, or laughing. (18) Pleural effusion, or fluid around the heart and lungs, may also develop and can cause shortness of breath or chest pain, says Caricchio.


Lupus is an incredibly complex autoimmune disease and diagnosing lupus can take a lot of time and many doctor visits. Patients will often get diagnosed with other “overlap” diseases such as rheumadoid arthritis (RA), Sjogren’s Syndrome, scleroderma, fibromyalgia or Raynaud’s Phenomenon even before a diagnosis of lupus is made. This can be incredibly frustrating for you as well as your doctors. Understanding the process of getting a lupus diagnosis is one of the most common questions we get here as well as a main topic in the discussions on our Facebook page and our other social media platforms. The goal of this blog is to give a clear understanding of the diagnosis process and provide the tools needed to go back to your doctor (or a new doctor) armed with the information you need.
While most infants born to mothers who have SLE are healthy, pregnant mothers with SLE should remain under medical care until delivery. Neonatal lupus is rare, but identification of mothers at highest risk for complications allows for prompt treatment before or after birth. In addition, SLE can flare up during pregnancy, and proper treatment can maintain the health of the mother longer. Women pregnant and known to have anti-Ro (SSA) or anti-La antibodies (SSB) often have echocardiograms during the 16th and 30th weeks of pregnancy to monitor the health of the heart and surrounding vasculature.[92]
As many as 70% of people with lupus have some skin symptoms. The three main categories of lesions are chronic cutaneous (discoid) lupus, subacute cutaneous lupus, and acute cutaneous lupus. People with discoid lupus may exhibit thick, red scaly patches on the skin. Similarly, subacute cutaneous lupus manifests as red, scaly patches of skin but with distinct edges. Acute cutaneous lupus manifests as a rash. Some have the classic malar rash (or butterfly rash) associated with the disease.[13] This rash occurs in 30 to 60% of people with SLE.[14]
A normal-range ANA titer in the context of organ system involvement that suggests systemic lupus erythematosus should prompt a work-up for alternative diagnoses. If no other cause is identified, the diagnosis of ANA-negative systemic lupus erythematosus and consultation with a rheumatologist should be considered. If patients with a normal ANA titer develop new clinical features that are consistent with systemic lupus erythematosus, ANA testing should be repeated.46 [Evidence level C, consensus/expert guidelines]
Although a fever technically is any body temperature above the normal of 98.6 F (37 C), in practice, a person is usually not considered to have a significant fever until the temperature is above 100.4 F (38 C). Fever is part of the body's own disease-fighting arsenal; rising body temperatures apparently are capable of killing off many disease-producing organisms.
B cells are essential for the development and pathogenesis of both systemic and organ-specific autoimmune diseases. Autoreactive B cells are typically thought of as sources of autoantibody, but their most important pathogenetic roles may be to present autoantigens to T cells and to secrete proinflammatory cytokines. A rate-limiting step in the genesis of autoimmunity then is the activation of autoreactive B cells. Here, mechanisms are discussed that normally prevent such activation and how they break down during disease. Integrating classic work with recent insights, emphasis is placed on efforts to pinpoint the precursor cells for autoantibody-secreting cells and the unique stimuli and pathways by which they are activated.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) has been helpful in reducing fatigue, improving thinking difficulties, and improving quality of life in people with SLE. Recent research indicates that DHEA diet supplementation has been shown to improve or stabilize signs and symptoms of SLE. DHEA is commonly available in health-food stores, pharmacies, and many groceries.

Systemic lupus erythematosus is a chronic, recurrent, potentially fatal multisystem inflammatory disorder that can be difficultto diagnose.1,2 The disease has no single diagnostic marker; instead, it is identified through a combination of clinical and laboratory criteria.3 Accurate diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus is important because treatment can reduce morbidity4–11 and mortality,12 particularly from lupus nephritis. This article reviews evidence-based recommendations for the diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus by primary care physicians.
Synovitis is an inflammation of the joint lining, called synovium. The symptoms are often of short duration and may change location although when caused by overuse tend to remain in one joint. The pain is usually more severe than expected based on the appearance of the joint on examination. In fact, sometimes there is pain without swelling or even tenderness in the joint, in which case the symptom is called “arthralgias” (literally meaning “joint pain” in Greek). Although synovitis has many different causes, the most common cause in an active healthy person is overuse.

Along with nutritional deficiencies, steroid medications can cause significant weight gain and increased cholesterol, blood glucose, and triglycerides, further underscoring the need for patients with SLE who are taking these agents to follow a healthy diet to counter the effects.6 There are also specific things that individuals with SLE should avoid, including alfalfa sprouts and garlic, which can stimulate an already overactive immune system.7 

Periodic follow-up and laboratory testing, including complete blood counts with differential, creatinine, and urinalyses, are imperative for detecting signs and symptoms of new organ-system involvement and for monitoring response and adverse reactions to therapies. At least quarterly visits are recommended in most cases. [151] Periodic complement levels and dsDNA titers may be used as adjuncts to clinical evaluation for detecting lupus flares.


Lupus is diagnosed when a person has several features of the disease (including symptoms, findings on examination, and blood test abnormalities). The American College of Rheumatology has devised criteria to assist doctors in making the correct diagnosis of lupus. A person should have at least four of the following 11 criteria, either at the same time or one after the other, to be classified as having lupus. These criteria include:

Lupus is often missed or misdiagnosed because the symptoms are vague and can match those of other conditions. Generally, a doctor will review your medical history and your family history, and look for signs of systemic inflammation. Because lupus can involve the internal and external organs, a doctor will rely on observation as well as laboratory testing in order to make a lupus diagnosis. There is no one test for lupus–generally, many different criteria will need to come together, and it can take years to reach a diagnosis.


Other diseases and conditions that can accompany lupus include fibromyalgia, coronary heart disease, nonbacterial valvular heart disease, pancreatitis, esophagus disease with difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy), liver disease (lupoid hepatitis), infections, and a tendency to spontaneous blood clotting and thrombosis.
ANA = antinuclear antibody; CNS = central nervous system; ds-DNA = double-stranded DNA; ELISA = enzyme-linked immunoassay; ENA = extractable nuclear antigen; Ig = immunoglobulin; p-ANCA = perinuclear antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody; RBCs = red blood cells; RNP = ribonucleic protein; SLE = systemic lupus erythematosus; Sm = Smith; SSA = Sjögren syndrome A; SSB = Sjögren syndrome B.
Unfortunately, significant side effects are associated with cyclophosphamide-based regimens, which are the only ones with proven long-term efficacy. An alternative consideration is mycophenolate mofetil, which may be as effective as pulse cyclophosphamide but with less severe adverse effects. In refractory cases (lack of treatment response by 6 months), consider intensifying therapy with mycophenolate mofetil. [61]

Subacute Cutaneous Lupus can cause skin lesions on any part of the body. These lesions often form red, ring-shaped, scaly patches on the skin. These lesions do not itch and often appear on the chest as well as the upper back and neck; however, they may also be seen on the face and arms. Typically, these lesions occur on areas of the body that are exposed to sunlight or fluorescent lights. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for patients with SCLE to have associated joint disease.
Lupus band test. Microphotograph of a histologic section of human skin prepared for direct immunofluorescence using an anti-IgG antibody. The skin is from a patient with systemic lupus erythematosus and shows IgG deposit at 2 different places: the first is a band-like deposit along the epidermal basement membrane ("lupus band test" is positive); the second is within the nuclei of the epidermal cells (anti-nuclear antibodies).

No single finding qualifies an individual as having SLE. Instead, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) has devised certain classification criteria, and four or more of these criteria must be present for a classification of lupus. [The term “classification” is not synonymous with “diagnosis.” “Classification” means that reasonable certainty exists for the diagnosis of lupus for research purposes.] Although, these criteria are currently being updated, they are believed to be about 90% effective. The ACR criteria include malar rash; discoid rash; photosensitivity (development of a rash after sun exposure); oral or nasal ulcers; arthritis of multiple joints; serositis: (inflammation of the lining around the lungs or heart); kidney disease indicated by protein or casts in the urine; neurological disorders such as seizures and psychosis; and blood disorders such as hemolytic anemia, leukopenia, and lymphopenia. Other signs that are common but not included in the classification criteria are hair loss or breaking, especially around the forehead, and Raynaud’s Phenomenon, a two- or three-color change of the fingertips upon cold exposure.
People with lupus are at great risk of contracting kidney disease. Kidney failure occurs in a minority of patients with lupus nephritis, despite advances in therapy. These patients must undergo dialysis. About one-third of patients who start dialysis during an acute lupus flare will be able to discontinue it within the first year. The remaining two-thirds, and those suffering gradual deterioration of kidney function over several years will require either continual dialysis for life or a kidney transplant.
Outcomes research seeks to understand the end results of particular health care practices and interventions. End results include effects that people experience and care about, such as change in the ability to function. In particular, for individuals with chronic conditions—where cure is not always possible—end results include quality of life as well as mortality.

Patients with SLE should be educated to avoid triggers for flare. Persons with SLE should avoid ultraviolet light and sun exposure to minimize worsening of symptoms from photosensitivity. Diet modification should be based on the disease activity. A balanced diet is important, but patients with SLE and hyperlipidemia, for example, should be placed on a low-fat diet. Many patients with SLE have low levels of vitamin D because of less sun exposure; therefore, these patients should take vitamin D supplements. Exercise is important in SLE patients to avoid rapid muscle loss, bone demineralization, and fatigue. Smoking should also be avoided.
SLE is regarded as a prototype disease due to the significant overlap in its symptoms with other autoimmune diseases.[49] This means that it is an important area of continued research and study that is utilizing diverse techniques such as GWAS, microarrays, and murine studies.[50] Further genetic studies of multiple ethnic groups and the creation of disease models incorporating environmental influences will help to increase and refine the understanding of specific genes, linkages, as well as the mechanisms underlying the disease.[51]

*All images unless otherwise noted are property of and were created by Kaleidoscope Fighting Lupus. To use one of these images, please contact us at info@kflupus.org for written permission; image credit and link-back must be given to Kaleidoscope Fighting Lupus. **All resources provided by us are for informational purposes only and should be used as a guide or for supplemental information, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. The personal views do not necessarily encompass the views of the organization, but the information has been vetted as a relevant resource. We encourage you to be your strongest advocate and always contact your medical provider with any specific questions or concerns.    
The mechanism by which foreign antigens are taken into antigen-presenting cells (APCs) and broken up. Part of the antigen is then displayed (presented) on the surface of the APC next to a histocompatibility or self-antigen, activating T lymphocytes and cell-mediated immunity. T lymphocytes are unable to recognize or respond to most antigens without APC assistance.
These conditions may be treated with high-dose intravenous steroids and cytotoxic therapy such as cyclophosphamide. Strokes, acute myocardial infarctions, and pulmonary emboli occurring as complications of SLE are managed in the same way as they are in patients without SLE. In patients who present with fever, it may be necessary to limit immunosuppression to steroids and to empirically treat for an infection until culture results have been received.
A diet high in folic acid, such as found in leafy green vegetables, fruits, and fortified breads and cereals, or a folic acid supplement is important if you are taking methotrexate (Rheumatrex). For nausea caused by medications, eat small frequent meals and foods that are easy to digest. Try dry cereals, breads, and crackers. Also avoid greasy, spicy, and acidic foods.
If cyclophosphamide doesn’t work for patients with lupus nephritis, they now have the option of trying another drug, and more options are being tested in clinical trials, says Dr. Caricchio. For example, doctors may use CellCept (mycophenolate mofetil), Imuran (azathioprine), or Restasis (cyclosporine). Prograf (tacrolimus) may also be an effective option for lupus nephritis, according to study data appearing in the January 2016 edition of Autoimmunity Reviews. (5)

Affiliate Disclosure: There are links on this site that can be defined as affiliate links. This means that I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you) if you purchase something when clicking on the links that take you through to a different website. By clicking on the links, you are in no way obligated to buy.


Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Copyright © livehopelupus.org

×