The most common type of lupus is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (eh-RITH-eh-muh-TOE-sus)
It is often called SLE, or simply lupus. SLE is a chronic autoimmune disease and can range from mild to severe, with a range of effects on the body. When people talk about lupus, they are usually referring to SLE, but there are other types of lupus: Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus, Drug-Induced Lupus, and Neonatal Lupus.
What is going on in a body with lupus?
In a properly functioning immune system, the body identifies foreign substances (such as viruses, bacteria, and germs) and creates antibodies to fight them off. With SLE and other autoimmune diseases, a body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, creating autoantibodies. “Auto” means self, so “autoantibodies” means that these antibodies attack the body’s own healthy cells and tissues, breaking them down and causing inflammation, damage, and pain.
SLE is a chronic disease, meaning that symptoms flare up (get worse) and then go into remission (get better). For most people, when symptoms flare up, they tend to last longer than six weeks. But because every person’s SLE is different, is important to know that everyone’s flare ups are different too. Most people with SLE will have periods of time when they feel fine (symptoms may even seem to disappear) and then periods when their disease is more active and symptoms are more severe.
The symptoms of lupus
The “systemic” part of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus means that the disease can affect many parts of the body, although not every symptom needs to be present in order for someone to have SLE. Some of the most common symptoms of SLE are:
- Extreme fatigue (tiredness)
- Joint pain
- Swelling joints
- Anemia (low numbers of red blood cells or hemoglobin, or low total blood volume)
- Pain in chest on deep breathing (pleurisy)
- Butterfly-shaped rash across cheeks and nose
- Sun- or light-sensitivity (photosensitivity)
- Hair loss
- Blood clotting problems
- Fingers turning white and/or blue when cold (Raynaud’s phenomenon)
SLE is not preventable with vaccines or curable with medications or treatment. The outlook for each individual depends a lot on the severity of lupus and when they begin to receive care. With increasing research and modern treatments in the last few decades, 80-90% of people with SLE live to the normal life expectancy. Getting appropriate medical care, following treatments and medications as directed, and living a healthy lifestyle are all crucial parts of living well with SLE.
SLE is not contagious or infectious, meaning you cannot “catch it” from someone. SLE is not a form of cancer and it is not like or related to HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) or AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). SLE mostly affects women of childbearing age (15-44), however men, children and teenagers can develop it too. People of all races and ethnic groups can develop lupus, however women of color are 2-3 times more likely to develop SLE than white women.