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Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Discover the hidden truth about Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, a mysterious autoimmune disease impacting millions worldwide.

USMLE Guide: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus


Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects various organs and systems in the body. This USMLE guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of SLE, including its epidemiology, etiology, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment options.


  • SLE primarily affects females of childbearing age (15-45 years).
  • The prevalence of SLE is estimated to be around 20-150 cases per 100,000 people.
  • It is more common in individuals of African, Asian, or Hispanic descent.


  • The exact cause of SLE is unknown, but it is believed to result from a combination of genetic, environmental, and hormonal factors.
  • Genetic predisposition plays a significant role, as SLE can run in families.
  • Environmental triggers such as infections, ultraviolet light, certain medications, and hormonal changes (e.g., estrogen) can contribute to disease development.


  • SLE is characterized by the production of autoantibodies against self-antigens, leading to immune complex formation and subsequent tissue damage.
  • Multiple organs and systems can be affected, including the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, and nervous system.

Clinical Manifestations

  • SLE has a wide range of clinical presentations, often with periods of remission and flare-ups.
  • Common symptoms include fatigue, fever, joint pain, and butterfly rash (malar rash) on the face.
  • Other manifestations may involve the skin (discoid rash, photosensitivity), musculoskeletal system (arthritis), renal system (glomerulonephritis), cardiovascular system (pericarditis), and hematologic system (anemia, thrombocytopenia).


  • Diagnosis of SLE is based on clinical criteria, supported by laboratory tests.
  • The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) has established 11 criteria for the classification of SLE, where a patient must meet at least 4 criteria to be diagnosed.
  • Laboratory tests include antinuclear antibodies (ANA), anti-double-stranded DNA (anti-dsDNA), anti-Sm antibodies, and complement levels (C3, C4) among others.


  • Treatment of SLE aims to control symptoms, prevent organ damage, and improve quality of life.
  • Mild disease may be managed with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and hydroxychloroquine.
  • Moderate to severe disease may require corticosteroids, immunosuppressants (e.g., azathioprine, mycophenolate mofetil), or biologic agents (e.g., rituximab).
  • Regular monitoring, patient education, and counseling are essential components of long-term management.


  • SLE has a variable prognosis, ranging from mild disease with a normal lifespan to severe organ involvement and increased mortality.
  • Early diagnosis, prompt treatment, and close monitoring can help improve outcomes and prevent complications.


Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is a complex autoimmune disease affecting multiple organ systems. Understanding its epidemiology, etiology, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment options is crucial for medical professionals preparing for the USMLE. By following this guide, you will have a strong foundation in managing SLE patients effectively.

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