What is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)?
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks and causes inflammation in its own tissues. Inflammation results in swelling, pain and other symptoms. As a result of SLE, the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels, the nervous system and almost any other organ can be affected. SLE can vary in severity; from mild to very severe. A person may experience active periods (commonly known as flares or flare-ups) and times where there is decreased activity or even inactivity (remission).
SLE affects about one in every 2,000 Canadians. Men, women and children can all be diagnosed with SLE but it is far more common in women (90% of persons with SLE are women).
In addition to SLE, there are other types of lupus that primarily affect the skin. Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) and sub-acute cutaneous lupus (SCLE) are types of lupus where skin rashes and sun sensitivity are the primary symptoms. Some people with skin lupus also develop systemic lupus but most do not.
This information was last updated September 2017, with expert advice from:
Sasha Bernatsky MD, PhD, FRCPC
Professor, Department of Medicine, McGill University
Deborah Levy MD, MS, FRCPC
View All Arthritis Types (A - Z)
Pediatric Rheumatologist, Hospital for Sick Children
Associate Professor of Pediatrics, University of Toronto