Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Systemic lupus erythematosus, also known as SLE or lupus, is an autoimmune disease that happens when the body’s defence system, which is supposed to help our body fight infections, turns against us and attacks our own organs instead. SLE can attack vital organs such as the kidneys, brain, blood, skin, joints, lungs, and other organs. SLE is a chronic disease and can lead to death if left untreated.

Can SLE occur in children?

SLE tends to appear during adulthood, but the disease can also occur in children, especially in girls going through puberty. Typically, a child with SLE will have a more severe illness compared to adults.

What are the symptoms of SLE?

SLE can cause different symptoms depending on the affected organ. If the kidneys are attacked, patients will show symptoms like body swelling, foamy urine, and high blood pressure. If the brain is attacked, patients may experience headaches, seizures, or confusion that causes them to act differently.

Other symptoms that may occur in SLE patients include prolonged fever, low appetite, decreased body weight, and fatigue. SLE patients may also show symptoms like a specific facial rash (a malar/butterfly rash), hair loss, ulcers on the palate, and sensitivity to sunlight.

  • A ‘butterfly-shaped’ rash on the cheek and forehead, sparing the folds of the nose and mouth
  • Redness or ulcers on the palate that are not painful
  • Prolonged fatigue and tiredness
  • Photosensitivity (sensitivity to sunlight)
  • Hair loss

What causes SLE and can it be prevented?

There is no one specific cause of SLE, but factors such as genetics, hormones, as well as exposure to certain infections, medications or sunlight can increase the risk of developing SLE in susceptible individuals. Unfortunately, it cannot be prevented.

How can it be diagnosed?

Individuals suspected to have lupus symptoms should consult medical experts. Usually, this disease is diagnosed and treated by autoimmune disease experts, who are also known as rheumatologists. Doctors will conduct a thorough medical history, full body examination, blood, urine and cerebrospinal fluid tests, as well as radiological examinations, like X-ray, ultrasound, and MRI, depending on the affected organs. Patients with signs of kidney damages may require a kidney biopsy.

How can it be treated?

Medications are prescribed to patients depending on the severity of the disease. Generally, SLE patients require drugs that suppress the immune system like steroids, cytotoxic medications like cyclophosphamide, and biologicals like rituximab. Patients suffering from a severe kidney damage may require haemodialysis and blood pressure medications. Some patients may also require blood transfusions.

SLE patients may also need to take calcium and vitamin D supplements. All SLE patients need to avoid exposure to strong sunlight by wearing hats and long-sleeved shirts and applying sunscreen. Additionally, SLE patients are also advised to avoid contact with people suffering from infectious diseases like chickenpox and tuberculosis, because they are more vulnerable to infections.

What is the prognosis of SLE?

Even though there is no cure for this disease, most patients will be able to control it with treatment. Patients who manage to control their disease will be able to experience a normal life similar to other children. They can go to school, play sports, continue their studies up to college or university, have a career, get married, and build their own family in the future. Hence, it is important for these children to get a proper treatment and to not give up once they are diagnosed with SLE.

Subscribe to our parenting newsletter.