The term undifferentiated connective tissue diseases is used to define conditions characterized by the presence of signs and symptoms suggestive of a systemic autoimmune disease that do not satisfy the classificative criteria for defined connective tissue diseases (CTD) such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), Sjögren’s syndrome (SS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and others. A small percentage of patients presenting with an undifferentiated profile will develop during the first year follow up of a full blown CTD, however an average of 75% will maintain an undifferentiated clinical course. These patients may be defined as having a stable undifferentiated connective tissue diseases (UCTD). The most characteristic symptoms of UCTD are represented by arthritis and arthralgias, Raynaud’s phenomenon, leukopenia, while neurological and kidney involvement are virtually absent. Eighty percent of these patients have a single autoantibody specificity, more frequently anti-Ro and anti-RNP antibodies. Stable UCTD are considered as distinct clinical entities and therefore it has been proposed to define those conditions as UCTD. Classificative criteria have also been proposed and a work to better define them is still under way.

Lupus is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that can affect multiple parts of the body including the various organ systems. Doctors prescribe traditional pharmaceutical medications to manage symptoms and prevent flare ups of the disease that can cause more serious problems and complications. Many patients choose to supplement their pharmaceutical care with alternative treatments and lifestyle adjustments like using diet and exercise to minimize lupus symptoms. We discuss this further in our  blog, Lupus/Chronic Illness: The Mind/Body Connection. There exists two major diets widely discussed in the autoimmune world. One is the anti-inflammatory diet and one is called the Paleo Diet.
Because lupus can produce a variety of symptoms in different individuals, it may take some time for a physician to actually make the diagnosis. Often a doctor will say that lupus might be present, but that the current symptoms are insufficient to signify a firm diagnosis. In this event, s/he will likely monitor the patient’s symptoms, signs, and lab tests closely over time and have him/her return for regular visits.
Any of a diverse group of plasma polypeptides that bind antigenic proteins and serve as one of the body’s primary defenses against disease. Two different forms exist. The first group of immunoglobulins lies on the surface of mature B cells, enabling them to bind to thousands of antigens. When the antigens are bound, the B plasma cells secrete the second type of immunoglobulins, antigen-specific antibodies, which circulate in the blood and accumulate in lymphoid tissue, esp. the spleen and lymph nodes, binding and destroying specific foreign antigens and stimulating other immune activity. Antibodies also activate the complement cascade, neutralize bacterial toxins and viruses, and function as opsonins, stimulating phagocytosis.
“There are no foods that cause lupus and no foods that cure it, but eating a well-balanced diet may help combat some of the side effects of medications, as well as alleviate symptoms of the disease,” said Laura Gibofsky, MS, RD, CSP, CDN, a clinical nutritionist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, New York. First, the “Western diet,” consisting of an excess of fatty, salty, sugary foods, has been implicated in autoimmune diseases overall.2 Proper nutrition can also help improve the risk of comorbid diseases that commonly affect patients with SLE.
In studies conducted so far, African American patients and patients of African heritage did not appear to respond significantly to belimumab. An additional study of this patient population is planned to evaluate belimumab further in this subgroup of lupus patients. However, this difference in response to a treatment may be another indicator of the various ways that the disease affects different patients.
Not necessarily. The antinuclear antibody (ANA) test is positive in most people who have lupus, but it also may be positive in many people who are healthy or have another autoimmune disease. Therefore, a positive ANA test alone is not adequate for the diagnosis of lupus. There must be at least three additional clinical features from the list of 11 features for the diagnosis to be made.
SLE is undoubtedly a potentially serious illness with involvement of numerous organ systems. However, it is important to recognize that most people with SLE lead full, active, and healthy lives. Periodic increases in disease activity (flares) can usually be managed by varying medications. Since ultraviolet light can precipitate and worsen flares, people with systemic lupus should avoid sun exposure. Sunscreens and clothing covering the extremities can be helpful. Abruptly stopping medications, especially corticosteroids, can also cause flares and should be avoided. People with SLE are at increased risk of infections as SLE-related complications, especially if they are taking corticosteroids or immunosuppressive medications. Therefore, any unexpected fever should be reported to medical professionals and evaluated.
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It’s been found that low levels of vitamin D might be associated with increased risk of autoimmune conditions and other chronic diseases, according to a report published in the International Journal of Rheumatology. (8) If you don’t spend much time outdoors, especially during the winter, talk to your doctor about taking a supplement to prevent vitamin D deficiency.
Alternative treatments are those that are not part of standard treatment. At this time, no research shows that alternative medicine can treat lupus. Some alternative or complementary approaches may help you cope or reduce some of the stress associated with living with a chronic illness. You should talk to your doctor before trying any alternative treatments.
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 
ANAs are proteins made by the body that can attach to DNA and other substances inside cells. But just because they are present in the body doesn’t necessarily mean they will attack these substances. These antibodies are found in at least 5% of the general population, so there are "many more people walking around with ANAs who are perfectly healthy or have some illness that has nothing to do with lupus," adds Dr. Belmont.

Consuming foods in their natural, whole form limits your exposure to synthetic additives, toxins or pesticides. These chemicals are very commonly found in packaged products and non-organic foods (even many veggies and fruit!). Because those with lupus already have weakened immune systems, reducing exposure to synthetic hormones, chemicals, medications and heavy metals is usually crucial for recovery.

Aggrecan is a type of protein known as a proteoglycan, which means it has several sugar molecules attached to it. It is the most abundant proteoglycan in cartilage, a tough, flexible tissue that makes up much of the skeleton during early development. Most cartilage is later converted to bone (a process called ossification), except for the cartilage that continues to cover and protect the ends of bones and is present in the nose, airways, and external ears. Aggrecan attaches to the other components of cartilage, organizing the network of molecules that gives cartilage its strength. These interactions occur at a specific region of the aggrecan protein called the C-type lectin domain (CLD). Because of the attached sugars, aggrecan attracts water molecules and gives cartilage its gel-like structure. This feature enables the cartilage to resist compression, protecting bones and joints. Although its role is unclear, aggrecan affects bone development.

Decorin is a protein coded for by the DCN gene. This protein is a component of the extracellular matrix, which is the intricate lattice of proteins and other molecules that forms in the spaces between cells. Decorin is found in the extracellular matrix of a variety of connective tissues, including skin, tendon, bone, and cartilage. Connective tissues support the body’s joints and organs. Decorin is involved in the organization of proteins called collagens. Collagens strengthen and support connective tissues throughout the body. Collagens also play an important role in the cornea, which is the clear outer covering of the eye. Bundles of collagen called fibrils must be strictly organized for the cornea to be transparent. Decorin ensures that these collagen fibrils are uniformly sized and regularly spaced.

Vasculitis, antiphospholipid antibodies, and renal failure are commonly found in patients with lupus; these conditions greatly increase the risk of developing pulmonary emboli. The diagnosis in a patient with shortness of breath, hemoptysis, and pleuritic chest pain is commonly made with ventilation-perfusion scans or computed tomography (CT) angiography. The CT angiogram demonstrates a filling defect in the left anterior segmental artery (arrow).


A complex of genes on chromosome 6 that code for the antigens that determine tissue and blood compatibility. In humans, histocompatibility antigens are called human leukocyte antigens (HLA) because they were originally discovered in large numbers on lymphocytes. There are thousands of combinations of HLA antigens. Class I MHC antigens (HLA-A, HLA-B, and HLA-C) are found on all nucleated cells and platelets. Class II antigens (HLA-DR, HLA-DQ, and HLA-DP) are found on lymphocytes and antigen processing cells and are important in the specific immune response. In tissue and organ transplantation, the extent to which the HLA or “tissue type” of the donor and recipient match is a major determinant of the success of the transplant.


Approximately 20% of people with SLE have clinically significant levels of antiphospholipid antibodies, which are associated with antiphospholipid syndrome.[90] Antiphospholipid syndrome is also related to the onset of neural lupus symptoms in the brain. In this form of the disease the cause is very different from lupus: thromboses (blood clots or "sticky blood") form in blood vessels, which prove to be fatal if they move within the blood stream.[79] If the thromboses migrate to the brain, they can potentially cause a stroke by blocking the blood supply to the brain.

If you have lupus, the autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissue, then you know there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all “lupus diet.” But that doesn’t mean that a healthy diet isn’t important to lupus management. You need to eat meals that are balanced and heart-healthy, with nutrient-dense foods that minimize inflammation. It’s not complicated, but there are some basics to follow.
With variants known as discoid lupus, subacute cutaneous lupus, and systemic lupus erythematosus, lupus is one of several disorders of the immune system considered “autoimmune” in nature. These diseases occur when the immune system malfunctions and turns its infection-defense capabilities against the body, producing antibodies against healthy cells and tissues. These antibodies promote chronic inflammation and can damage organs and tissues. In lupus, these antibodies are known as antinuclear antibodies (ANA) because they target parts of the cell’s nucleus. Experts don’t yet fully understand all of the factors and triggers that cause inflammation and tissue damage in lupus, and research is ongoing.
Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, hydrocortisone, methylprednisolone, and dexamethasone, are related to cortisol, which is a natural anti-inflammatory hormone. They work by rapidly suppressing inflammation. Corticosteroids can be given by mouth, in creams applied to the skin, by injection, or by intravenous (IV) infusion (dripping the drug into the vein through a small tube). Because they are potent drugs, the doctor will seek the lowest dose required to achieve the desired benefit.
Elevated expression of HMGB1 was found in the sera of people and mice with systemic lupus erythematosus, high mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) is a nuclear protein participating in chromatin architecture and transcriptional regulation. Recently, there is increasing evidence HMGB1 contributes to the pathogenesis of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases due to its inflammatory and immune stimulating properties.[69]

The cause of SLE is not clear.[1] It is thought to involve genetics together with environmental factors.[4] Among identical twins, if one is affected there is a 24% chance the other one will be as well.[1] Female sex hormones, sunlight, smoking, vitamin D deficiency, and certain infections, are also believed to increase the risk.[4] The mechanism involves an immune response by autoantibodies against a person's own tissues.[1] These are most commonly anti-nuclear antibodies and they result in inflammation.[1] Diagnosis can be difficult and is based on a combination of symptoms and laboratory tests.[1] There are a number of other kinds of lupus erythematosus including discoid lupus erythematosus, neonatal lupus, and subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus.[1]

Gluten can also lead to what’s known as molecular mimicry. The gluten protein, gliadin, resembles many of your body’s own tissues, particularly thyroid tissue. If you have Celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or a leaky gut, your immune system releases gliadin antibodies every time you eat gluten. Because gliadin looks so similar to your own tissues, sometimes these antibodies mistakenly attack other organs and systems, from the skin to the thyroid to the brain. This case of mistaken identity often leads to full-blown autoimmune disease.
Acute cutaneous LE typically presents in the third decade of life and is frequently associated with active SLE. There are localized and generalized forms of ACLE. The localized form is the frequently described malar, or “butterfly” rash, which refers to erythema that occurs over both cheeks, extends over the nasal bridge, and spares the nasolabial folds. These lesions are classically transient, sun-induced, and non-scarring, although dyspigmentation can occur. Patients may initially mistake this rash for a sunburn, and only seek medical attention when it persists for several days. A fine surface scale and/or edema may be associated with the erythema. Malar rashes have been reported to be present in up to 52% of SLE patients at the time of diagnosis, with clinical activity of the rash paralleling that of the systemic disease. This rash can be confused with acne rosacea and seborrheic dermatitis, however the former is associated with the formation of papules and pustules, and the latter occurs within the nasolabial folds.

Other sets of criteria, known as disease activity indices, exist for the monitoring of lupus. These forms allow a physician examining a patient to check for the improvement or worsening of the disease. These forms include the BILAG (British Isles Lupus Assessment Group Index), SLEDAI (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Activity Index), SLAM (Systemic Lupus Activity Measure), ECLAM (European Consensus Lupus Activity Measurement), and the Lupus Activity Index (LAI). Sometimes these indices will show no signs of lupus, even when the patient feels badly. This is because some of the problems that occur in lupus, such as chronic fatigue and pain, are not tracked by the indices. Instead, these symptoms represent a co-occuring problem called fibromyalgia.

  According to the Mayo Clinic, “People with lupus should eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These foods are rich in vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients that benefit overall health and can help prevent high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, cancer and digestive disorders. Plant-based diets also support a healthy weight because they are naturally low in calories, fat and cholesterol. Fruits and vegetables are particularly high in antioxidants. Antioxidants protect the body by destroying harmful substances that damage cells and tissue and cause heart disease and cancer.” Take a look at our blog, Lupus: the Diet Dilemma for some great tips. While these diets, or eating plans, may have some merit, individual foods should not be the focus. Pay attention to your overall pattern of nutrition. Reducing inflammation is not just about what you eat.  Patients should also know that these diets are never meant to be a replacement for the lupus treatments they may already be taking under the close supervision of a medical professional. Until more research is in on the effectiveness of these diets, be practical by getting enough sleep and exercise, and try to maintain a healthy weight. Back to top
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]
Limited evidence suggests that supplementation may be clinically beneficial in SLE patients with low levels of vitamin D. In Mediterranean patients,  female patients who were not receiving supplemental vitamin D showed more fatigue and received more oral corticosteroids than those with normal levels of vitamin D. [109] In Australian patients, an increase in serum vitamin D levels was associated with reduced disease activity over time. [152]
These are low in nutrients and may also contribute to poor digestion, weight gain, inflammation and other symptoms. Most also contain gluten, a type of protein found in wheat, barley, rye and most flour-containing products. Gluten sensitivity or intolerance is common in those with autoimmune disorders because gluten can be difficult for many people to digest properly, increasing leaky gut syndrome and triggering symptom flare-ups. (6)
Lupus pregnancy deserves special review because it presents unique challenges. Pregnant women with SLE are considered high-risk pregnancies. These pregnancies require interactive monitoring generally by a skilled rheumatologist together with an obstetrician expert in high-risk pregnancies. Women with SLE who are pregnant require close observation during pregnancy, delivery, and the postpartum period. This includes fetal monitoring by the obstetrician during later pregnancy. These women can have an increased risk of miscarriages (spontaneous abortions) and can have flares of SLE during pregnancy. The presence of phospholipid antibodies, such as cardiolipin antibodies or lupus anticoagulant, in the blood can identify people at risk for miscarriages. Cardiolipin antibodies are associated with a tendency toward blood clotting. Women with SLE who have cardiolipin antibodies or lupus anticoagulant may need blood-thinning medications (aspirin with or without heparin) during pregnancy to prevent miscarriages. Other reported treatments include the use of intravenous gamma globulin for selected people with histories of premature miscarriage and those with low blood-clotting elements (platelets) during pregnancy. Pregnant women who have had a previous blood-clotting event may benefit by continuation of blood-thinning medications throughout and after pregnancy for up to six to 12 weeks, at which time the risk of clotting associated with pregnancy seems to diminish. Plaquenil has now been found to be safe for use to treat SLE during pregnancy. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are also safely used to treat certain manifestation of lupus during pregnancy.
Since a large percentage of people with SLE have varying amounts of chronic pain, stronger prescription analgesics (painkillers) may be used if over-the-counter drugs (mainly nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) do not provide effective relief. Potent NSAIDs such as indomethacin and diclofenac are relatively contraindicated for people with SLE because they increase the risk of kidney failure and heart failure.[83]
Patients with class III or IV disease, as well as those with a combination of class V and class III or IV disease, generally undergo aggressive therapy with glucocorticoid drugs and immunosuppressants. [96] Immunosuppressive therapy consists of induction and maintenance therapy. Induction therapy involves potent immunosuppressive drugs (eg, mycophenolate mofetil, cyclophosphamide) to achieve remission; these drugs are generally used for 3 months to 1 year, with an average of 6 months’ treatment having been shown to be more efficacious and safer than long-term therapy. [131]
Conventional lupus treatment usually involves a combination of medications used to control symptoms, along with lifestyle changes — like dietary improvements and appropriate exercise. It’s not uncommon for lupus patients to be prescribed numerous daily medications, including corticosteroid drugs, NSAID pain relievers, thyroid medications and even synthetic hormone replacement drugs. Even when taking these drugs, it’s still considered essential to eat an anti-inflammatory lupus diet in order to manage the root causes of lupus, along with reducing its symptoms.
Other sets of criteria, known as disease activity indices, exist for the monitoring of lupus. These forms allow a physician examining a patient to check for the improvement or worsening of the disease. These forms include the BILAG (British Isles Lupus Assessment Group Index), SLEDAI (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Activity Index), SLAM (Systemic Lupus Activity Measure), ECLAM (European Consensus Lupus Activity Measurement), and the Lupus Activity Index (LAI). Sometimes these indices will show no signs of lupus, even when the patient feels badly. This is because some of the problems that occur in lupus, such as chronic fatigue and pain, are not tracked by the indices. Instead, these symptoms represent a co-occuring problem called fibromyalgia.

Medications that suppress immunity (immunosuppressive medications) are also called cytotoxic drugs. They are sometimes referred to as chemotherapy because they are also used to treat cancer, generally in much higher doses than those used to treat lupus. Immunosuppressive medications are used for treating people with more severe manifestations of SLE, such as damage to internal organ(s). Examples of immunosuppressive medications include azathioprine (Imuran), cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan), chlorambucil (Leukeran), cyclosporine (Sandimmune), and the disease-modifying drug methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall). All immunosuppressive medications can seriously depress blood-cell counts and increase risks of infection and bleeding. Immunosuppressive medications may not be taken during pregnancy or conceptionbecause of risk to the fetus. Other side effects are specific for each drug. For examples, methotrexate can cause liver toxicity, while cyclosporine can impair kidney function.
There are over 200 disorders that impact connective tissue. Some, like cellulitis, are the result of an infection. Injuries can cause connective tissue disorders, such as scars. Others, such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Marfan syndrome, and osteogenesis imperfecta, are genetic. Still others, like scleroderma, have no known cause. Each disorder has its own symptoms and needs different treatment.
B cells obtain help from T cells in the antibody response by acting as antigen-specific antigen presenting cells. A direct signal through binding of antigen to membrane Ig can enhance B cell antigen presentation and T-dependent B cell activation, but is not required for a productive interaction between a small resting B cell and a differentiated helper T cell.

Another targeted treatment, anifrolumab, is being investigated in clinical trials and appears to be promising, says Stacy Ardoin, MD, a rheumatologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, citing a study in the February 2017 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatology (7). “I don’t think it will work for everyone, but it’s good to have another treatment option.”

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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.

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