Defining Lupus: Beyond SLE – Arthritis Research

14 Sep 2021

With an estimated 1.5 million Americans with lupus and no known cure, lupus is a devastating, life-threatening disease that can cause organ damage, stroke and other serious events. Systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE for short, is the condition most referred to when lupus is discussed. While it is most common, it is not the only form of lupus that affects patients, or that ANRF researchers focus on.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): The word “systemic” means the disease can involve many parts of the body. SLE symptoms can be mild or serious. Anout 70% of lupus patients have this form of the disease. Symptoms include, but are not limited to: skin rashes, pain or swelling of the joints, swelling in the feet and around the eyes (indicative of Kidney involvement), extreme fatigue and low fevers.

Discoid lupus erythematosus (or cutaneous lupus) mainly affects the skin. Roughly 2/3 of lupus patients will develop skin disease. This can lead to red circular rashes or sores (lesions), most of which will appear on sun-exposed areas such as the face, ears, neck, arms, and legs. Discoid lupus rashes often leave scars or light-colored patches of skin after it heals. 40-70% of people with lupus will find the impact of the disease is worse by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight or artificial light.

Drug-induced lupus is triggered by certain drugs. It is similar to SLE, but symptoms are usually more mild. Frequently the disease goes away when the medication is stopped. More men develop drug-induced lupus because the drugs—hydralazine and procainamide—that cause it are used to treat heart conditions more common in men.

Neonatal lupus is not true lupus. It is a rare condition associated with antibodies from the mother that affect the fetus. At birth, the baby may have a skin rash, liver problems or low blood cell counts, but these symptoms normally disappear after six months and have no lasting effects. The most serious symptom is a congenital heart block, which causes a slow heartbeat. Although extremely rare, newborns of women with lupus are at greater risk for developing this potentially life-threatening complication. With proper testing, most at-risk mothers can be identified, and the infant can be treated at or before birth. Most infants of mothers with lupus are completely healthy.

Among the current 2021 ANRF grant recipients, Maria Gutierrez-Arcelus, Ph.D. currently at Boston Children’s Hospital, and Sarah Baxter, M.D., Ph.D., at University of Washington, focus their research on lupus.

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