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Overview of the clinical manifestations of systemic lupus erythematosus in adults

Peter H Schur, MD
Dafna D Gladman, MD, FRCPC
Section Editor
David S Pisetsky, MD, PhD
Deputy Editor
Monica Ramirez Curtis, MD, MPH


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic inflammatory disease of unknown cause that can affect the skin, joints, kidneys, lungs, nervous system, serous membranes, and/or other organs of the body. Immunologic abnormalities, especially the production of a number of antinuclear antibodies, are another prominent feature of the disease.

The clinical course of SLE is variable and may be characterized by periods of remissions and of chronic or acute relapses. Women, especially in their 20s and 30s, are affected more frequently than men.

Patients with SLE are subject to myriad symptoms, complaints, and inflammatory involvement that can affect virtually every organ [1,2]. The most common pattern is a mixture of constitutional complaints with skin, musculoskeletal, mild hematologic, and serologic involvement (table 1) [1]. However, some patients have predominately hematologic, renal, or central nervous system manifestations. The pattern that dominates during the first few years of illness tends to prevail subsequently [3,4].

Signs and symptoms that can occur in SLE are discussed in this topic review. Both constitutional symptoms and those related to specific organ systems can occur; these are both reviewed here and are discussed in more detail separately. (See appropriate topic reviews.)

Criteria that can be used to establish the diagnosis of SLE and a discussion of differential diagnosis of this disease are presented separately. (See "Diagnosis and differential diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus in adults".)


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Literature review current through: Jun 2015. | This topic last updated: Jan 5, 2015.
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