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Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: Overview and Risk Factors

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune disease. Some cases are mild, but others can be life–threatening. Although the underlying cause is not yet known, it is clear that various abnormalities of the immune system are responsible for the disorder.

The disease follows an irregular course with multiple flare–ups and remissions. Virtually any part of the body can be involved, most notably the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, and brain. The most common symptoms are skin rash, arthritis, fever, fatigue, and weight loss.

Risk Factors

  • Female gender: Nearly 90 percent of cases occur in women, particularly during the childbearing years.
  • Ethnicity: African–Americans are most commonly affected and are three times more likely to have SLE than Caucasians. Hispanic–, Asian–, and Native Americans also have an increased risk compared with Caucasians.
  • Geography: The risk varies by geography. For example, SLE is rare in West Africa, more common in Central and Southern Africa, and most common in America and Europe. It is unclear whether these differences are related to environmental or genetic factors.
  • Age: The highest risk occurs between 20 and 50 years of age.
  • Genetics: There is an increased risk in close relatives and identical twins of SLE patients, but specific genes that may be responsible have yet to be determined.
  • Medications: Development of SLE has been associated with use of hydralazine, isoniazid, methyldopa, and procainamide. However, the disease may be reversible when these medications are stopped.


Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: Diagnosis and Treatment >>