Yet another “mysterious malady”.
SLE is more properly known as systemic lupus erythematosus. While it’s a little less mysterious than CFS or fibromyalgia, it resembles these conditions in that its hallmarks are pain and fatigue, and its cause is unknown. Another hallmark symptom is the butterfly rash, as illustrated in the featured image and in the one below.
SLE is an autoimmune condition which can affect many body systems but most frequently impacts the skin and joints. It can affect anyone at any age but is most commonly seen in women between the ages of 20 to 45 years. In autoimmune diseases such as SLE, the immune system of a person’s body becomes confused and attacks other tissues in the body. It’s not well understood why this happens.
What It Feels Like
Like CFS and fibromyalgia, every case of SLE can look different. Common symptoms include:
- Red rashes, often on the face and in the shape of a butterfly (called a malar rash)
- Joint pain or swelling
- Muscle pain
- Sensitivity to the sun or light
- Poor concentration and/or memory problems
- Hair loss
- Extreme fatigue
The symptoms can come and go in what is sometimes called a relapsing/remitting pattern. Recurrent relapses are often called “flares”. A flare can be triggered by stress, insufficient rest, an infection, over-exposure to sunlight and so on.
SLE is a serious condition with the potential to be life-threatening. When death does occur, it is most often associated with an infection or kidney disease.
The diagnosis of SLE is based on a medical history, physical exam and lab tests. Blood tests are done to look for markers of autoimmune activity and urine tests are done to determine if the condition is affecting kidney function. Other tests may be ordered, depending on the signs and symptoms of the patient.
Conventional medical treatment may involve lifestyle changes and medications prescribed to modify the hyperactive state of the immune system. The choice of medication is based on he nature of the patient’s symptoms and can range from relatively mild (NSAIDS like Ibuprofen) to powerful (immune system suppressing drugs like methotrexate).
Natural health care for SLE emphasizes lifestyle modification and treatments to balance the activity of the immune system. The goal is to maximize quality of life by reducing the frequency, duration and intensity of flares.
Research in genetics and immunology is helping us to understand the complex variables that give rise to SLE. As our understanding of the pathophysiology progresses, new treatments will emerge. In the meantime, focusing on the basics of trigger avoidance and immune response modulation offers significant relief to many people with SLE.