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Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)

Understanding causes

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a rare autoimmune disease in which the body's own immune system fights its own body and severe inflammatory reactions occur. Characteristic for the disease is the involvement of skin, joints and internal organs such as kidneys, lungs or the nervous system.

Based on current knowledge, it can be assumed that both genetic factors and environmental influences are responsible for the occurrence of SLE. Although risk genes have been identified, the causes for the onset of SLE are often unclear.

Facts and figures around the disease

The disease belongs to the rare rheumatic diseases. In Germany, it is estimated that 0.02% of the population suffer from SLE. Although the disease can occur at any age and in both women and men, young women are particularly frequently affected.

Typical symptoms and course of the disease

Typical for SLE is a butterfly-shaped reddening of the face. Often, however, other symptoms (individually or in combination) appear first. Such typical symptoms of the disease are:

  • Skin changes that mainly occur in sun-exposed areas of the skin (e.g. face and décolletage)
  • Pain and swelling of the joints (arthritis)
  • Hair loss
  • Strong fading of fingers or toes in cold weather (Raynaud's phenomenon)
  • Pleurisy or pericardial inflammation
  • Pronounced aphthae on the mucous membranes
  • Lymph node enlargements
  • Unclear fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Severe dry mouth or eyes (Sicca symptoms)
  • Accumulated thromboses or infarctions of unknown cause
  • Acute states of confusion, seizures, Parkinson-like movement disorders

Participation of the kidneys within the framework of SLE is particularly feared. This can only be diagnosed by a medical examination. The patient often does not notice this complication or only notices it very late.

Without appropriate therapy, the disease often progresses intermittently and can sometimes lead to severe organ damage.

How does the physician make the diagnosis?

  • Clinical examination of the skin and joints
  • Determination of various autoantibodies and other immunological changes in the blood
  • Urinalysis

How is the disease treated?

Although SLE is a serious disease, which can be severe without appropriate therapy, we are fortunate today to have a number of effective and low side effect therapies at our disposal. An early diagnosis and a connection to a specialist (rheumatologist), who makes the diagnosis and coordinates the therapy in cooperation with the patient and the family doctor, is important.

Thanks to modern medical research, it has been possible in recent years to improve established therapies (basic therapies) and develop new therapeutics (including so-called "biologics"). The aim is an effective therapy with few side effects, which enables those affected to lead a normal life.

Practical tips for everyday life

Balanced diet, avoidance of intensive sunbathing, avoidance of alcohol and nicotine as well as regular exercise.