The rate of SLE varies between countries, ethnicity, and sex, and changes over time.[95] In the United States, one estimate of the rate of SLE is 53 per 100,000;[95] other estimates range from 322,000 to over 1 million.[96] In Northern Europe the rate is about 40 per 100,000 people.[97] SLE occurs more frequently and with greater severity among those of non-European descent.[96] That rate has been found to be as high as 159 per 100,000 among those of Afro-Caribbean descent.[95] Childhood-onset systemic lupus erythematosus generally presents between the ages of 3 and 15 and is four times more common in girls.[98]

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.
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]
In addition to the oral antimalarial hydroxychloroquine, doctors may prescribe topical steroids for lupus rash. Steroids or antimalarials may also be injected directly into rash lesions. (8) Topical creams containing tacrolimus or pimecrolimus that modulate the skin’s immune response may help manage lupus rash. Oral thalidomide, which affects the immune response, may be prescribed if other therapies don’t work. Doctors may also recommend that people with lupus rash avoid the sun and other ultraviolet light sources and wear sunscreen.

There is no cure for SLE.[1] Treatments may include NSAIDs, corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, hydroxychloroquine, and methotrexate.[1] Alternative medicine has not been shown to affect the disease.[1] Life expectancy is lower among people with SLE.[5] SLE significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease with this being the most common cause of death.[4] With modern treatment about 80% of those affected survive more than 15 years.[3] Women with lupus have pregnancies that are higher risk but are mostly successful.[1]


The principal receptors on animal cells for binding most extracellular matrix proteins—including collagens, fibronectin, and laminins—are the integrins. Integrins, like other cell adhesion molecules, differ from cell-surface receptors for hormones and for other extracellular soluble signal molecules in that they usually bind their ligand with lower affinity and are usually present at about tenfold to a hundredfold higher concentration on the cell surface. If the binding were too tight, cells would presumably become irreversibly glued to the matrix and would be unable to move—a problem that does not arise if attachment depends on large numbers of weak adhesions. This is an example of the “Velcro principle” mentioned earlier. Like other transmembrane cell adhesion proteins, however, integrins do more than just attach a cell to its surroundings. They also activate intracellular signaling pathways that communicate to the cell the character of the extracellular matrix that is bound.

Neutrophils, 55% to 70% of all leukocytes, are the most numerous phagocytic cells and are a primary effector cell in inflammation. Eosinophils, 1% to 3% of total leukocytes, destroy parasites and are involved in allergic reactions. Basophils, less than 1% of all leukocytes, contain granules of histamine and heparin and are part of the inflammatory response to injury. Monocytes, 3% to 8% of all leukocytes, become macrophages and phagocytize pathogens and damaged cells, esp. in the tissue fluid. Lymphocytes, 20% to 35% of all leukocytes, have several functions: recognizing foreign antigens, producing antibodies, suppressing the immune response to prevent excess tissue damage, and becoming memory cells.


Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Certain foods, including garlic and alfalfa sprouts, should be avoided by people with lupus. [For a more complete list of items to be avoided, please see the article “Things to Avoided” in the Lupus 101 section.] Recently controversy has also arisen over whether aspartame induces lupus. However, scientists have concluded that there is no evidence to suggest that aspartame causes lupus.
Fernández-Nebro A, Rúa-Figueroa Í, López-Longo FJ, Galindo-Izquierdo M, Calvo-Alén J, Olivé-Marqués A, Ordóñez-Cañizares C, Martín-Martínez MA, Blanco R, Melero-González R, Ibáñez-Rúan J, Bernal-Vidal JA, Tomero-Muriel E, Uriarte-Isacelaya E, Horcada-Rubio L, Freire-González M, Narváez J, Boteanu AL, Santos-Soler G, Andreu JL, Pego-Reigosa JM 2015, ‘Cardiovascular Events in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: A Nationwide Study in Spain From the RELESSER Registry’, EAS-SER (Systemic Diseases Study Group of Spanish Society of Rheumatology). Medicine (Baltimore), vol. 94, no. 29, viewed 22 September 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26200625

Most patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (unless they’re otherwise advised by their rheumatologist) should be taking an oral antimalarial drug — medications originally used to prevent a malaria infection, but that have been found to help with lupus symptoms, says Dr. Kramer. The antimalarial hydroxychloroquine helps prevent lupus flares, minimizes joint inflammation, and controls fever, fatigue, pleurisy (inflammation of the sac surrounding the lungs), and pericarditis (inflammation of the lining around the heart). The drug is also “the backbone of therapy” for most skin rashes associated with lupus, says Kramer. Mouth sores may also be alleviated with this drug. Chloroquine and quinacrine are other antimalarials drugs used to treat lupus. (3)

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