What is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus?

Lupus Doctis

On the occasion of the recent celebration of World Lupus Day, from the european  project DocTIS we want to contribute by shedding light on one of its most common typologies, systemic lupus erythematosus. This Immune-Mediated Inflammatory disease, often poorly understood, is one of the six that DocTIS focuses on along with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease, in which the patient’s immune system attacks healthy tissue as if they were bacteria, viruses or foreign cells, producing antibodies against their own body. It affects approximately 5 million people worldwide, mainly women.

It is a systemic disease, which can affect most organs: the skin, joints, kidneys, lungs, etc. It generally occurs in the form of outbreaks, which alternate with periods of inactivity.

The most common symptoms are:

– Fatigue.
– Feeling unwell.
– Pain in the joints.
– Respiratory difficulty.
– Fever without any apparent cause.
– Weightloss.
– Skin rashes: The most common is the one that appears in the nose and cheek area, in the shape of a butterfly, and which usually worsens with exposure to sunlight.

In addition, this disease can cause other less obvious symptoms, such as inflammation of the membrane that covers the heart (myocardium), increased blood pressure due to kidney involvement, clots in the veins, reduction of white blood cells or platelets, repeated miscarriages, intestinal inflammation, etc.

As mentioned above, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus mainly affects women, with the approximate diagnosis ratio being 1 man for every 9 women. It generally appears between 15 and 40 years of age, although it can appear at any time throughout life. Its causes are unknown, although experts tend to link the disease with genetic, hormonal and environmental factors.

For its diagnosis, in addition to the explanation of the symptoms by the patient and a physical examination by the doctor, several tests are usually necessary. The most common are a complete blood test, urine test or chest x-ray, although there can be many others depending on how the disease affects the patient.

There is no cure for this disease, nor a single treatment for the symptoms, since it depends on the ways in which SLE manifests in the patient. The most common treatments include corticosteroids, the dose of which will depend on how active the disease is, anti-inflammatories for pain, such as those in the joints, or immunosuppressants to treat and prevent stronger outbreaks.

Additionally, doctors often recommend:

– High protection against the sun.
– Regular checkups for possible heart problems.
– Monitoring for possible bone problems (osteoporosis).
– Avoid alcohol and tobacco.
– Be up to date on vaccines.

Thanks to early diagnosis, which allows appropriate treatment to be instituted quickly and avoid possible conditions, and regular medical follow-up, many people only have mild symptoms, but for all SLE patients the quality of life has been reduced.

In the last 20 years there has been great progress in the development of therapies to treat this and other Immune-Mediated Inflammatory diseases. However, not all patients respond adequately to these new therapies and in many cases they end up losing effectiveness and must be stopped. Furthermore, these therapies are expensive, which is why they have become a significant burden on healthcare systems.

The DocTIS project is committed to addressing this important health problem, identifying new combinations of existing drugs that enhance their respective effects. The project thus seeks to reduce the activity of these diseases until the symptoms are remitted, reduce the doses of the drugs (and therefore their side effects) and reduce the probability of becoming resistant to the therapies.

(Above image by Feepik)

What is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus?