Systematic Lupus Erythematosus

What is Lupus?

Systematic lupus erythematosus is also called SLE or lupus. It is an autoimmune condition where the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. 

For some people, lupus may just affect the skin and/or joints. In other people, it may also affect the lungs, kidneys, blood vessels, brain or other parts of the body.

Symptoms vary from person to person and may come and go at different times. The most common symptoms are:

  • Joint pain and/or swelling. Especially in the hands or feet.
  • Skin rashes, made worse by being in the sun.
  • Sores in the mouth or nose. 
  • Anaemia (low number of red blood cells).

Many people with lupus have ‘flares’ (this is periods of time when their symptoms get worse). Flares can happen with no obvious cause. There is no way of knowing how bad a flare will be or how long they will last. But they might happen more often during times of stress, or may be caused by sun exposure, infections, and pregnancy.

What causes it?

It is not known what causes lupus. It might be a combination of factors like genetics, viruses, sunlight, stress and hormones acting together. This is yet to be proven in research.

How is it diagnosed?

There is no one single test that can tell whether you have lupus. It can be difficult, and often takes time to diagnose lupus as the symptoms can be similar to other types of arthritis.

Your doctor will diagnose lupus from your symptoms, a clinical examination and various tests. This can include tests of the blood and urine, and organs such as your heart and lungs. .

What is the treatment?

There is currently no cure for lupus. But, treatment has improved dramatically. New medicines are extremely helpful in controlling the condition.

With close follow-up and the right treatment, most people with lupus can expect to live a full and active life. But for some people it can cause serious and even life-threatening problems. 

Your doctor will tailor treatment to your symptoms and the severity of your condition. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing exactly which treatment will work best for you. So, your doctor may need to try several different treatments before finding the right one for you. 

What can you do?

  • See your doctor - Your doctor will help coordinate your care. This includes making referrals to specialists like a rheumatologist for further tests and treatment. 
  • Learn about lupus and play an active role in your treatment - Not all information you read or hear about is trustworthy so always talk to your doctor or healthcare team about treatments you are thinking about trying.
  • Protect yourself from the sun -  If your skin is sensitive to the sun, make sure you avoid the sun during peak hours, and take steps to cover and protect your skin. 
  • Live a healthy life - Regular physical activity, a healthy diet and stopping smoking will help your overall health and wellbeing.
  • Acknowledge your feelings and seek support -  It is natural to feel scared, frustrated, sad and sometimes angry. As there is currently no cure for lupus it can affect many parts of your life. Be aware of these feelings and get help if they start affecting your daily life. 


Download our free information sheet - Systematic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus)


More information and support 


Download some of our free handy information sheets on lupus and managing arthritis symptoms. 


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Join one of our online support groups to connect with other Australians living with arthritis. 


Have questions? Call our free infoline on 1800 011 041 to speak with a member of our health team. 


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