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Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE, or Lupus)

What is lupus?

Systemic lupus erythematosus, also known as SLE, or simply lupus, is a disease that is characterized by periodic episodes of inflammation of and damage to the joints, tendons, other connective tissues, and organs, including the heart, lungs, blood vessels, brain, kidneys, and skin. The heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain are the organs most affected. Lupus affects each individual differently and the effects of the illness range from mild to severe. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that occurs in about one in 1,000 people. It is much more common in women of childbearing age, especially African-American women.

What are the symptoms of lupus?

The following are the most common symptoms of lupus. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The symptoms of lupus may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How is lupus diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, lupus may be diagnosed by symptoms and by blood tests for antibodies specific for the disease. The course of the disease ranges from mild to severe and most people have periods of increased symptoms called flares.

How does pregnancy affect lupus?

Pregnancy may or may not increase the symptoms of, or change the course of, lupus. Flares may occur at any time in pregnancy or the postpartum period (after delivery), but are usually mild.

How does lupus affect pregnancy?

Lupus can affect pregnancy at any stage. It is not clear whether the severity of the disease or the type of medication causes problems. However, there are higher pregnancy risks associated with lupus. The rate of miscarriage is higher, ranging from 9 to 40 percent. Later pregnancy loss may also be more likely. Pregnancy complications that may be increased in women with lupus include, but are not limited to, the following:

It is thought that high levels of antiphospholipid antibodies (antibodies that cause abnormal blood clotting) may be linked with stillbirth. Pregnancy loss may also be associated with the severity of lupus at the time of conception, or if lupus begins during pregnancy. It is also thought that kidney disease with lupus may play a role in pregnancy loss.

A rare condition called neonatal lupus erythematosus (NLE) may affect babies of mothers with lupus. Symptoms may include:

Management of lupus during pregnancy:

Because of the higher risks for pregnancy loss with lupus, mothers need close monitoring of the disease. More frequent prenatal visits are often needed.

Medications used to treat lupus may need to be changed (type and/or dosage), during pregnancy. Consult your physician for more information.

Testing during pregnancy with lupus may include the following:

Women with lupus can increase their chances for a healthy pregnancy by getting early prenatal care and working with their healthcare providers in the management of their disease.

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