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What is Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)?


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune disorder that can affect multiple organs and tissues in the body. It is estimated that SLE affects 5 million people worldwide, and it is more common in women than men, with a female-to-male ratio of 9:1. The peak age of onset for SLE is between 15 and 45 years of age, but it can occur at any age.

SLE occurs when the immune system attacks healthy tissues and organs in the body, causing inflammation and damage. The exact cause of SLE is unknown, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and hormonal factors. Some of the environmental triggers that have been linked to SLE include infections, ultraviolet (UV) light exposure, medications, and stress.

The signs and symptoms of SLE can vary widely depending on the organ or tissue affected. Common symptoms include fatigue, fever, joint pain and swelling, skin rashes, hair loss, mouth ulcers, and sensitivity to sunlight. Other symptoms may include chest pain, shortness of breath, headaches, seizures, and cognitive impairment.

Diagnosing SLE can be challenging because the symptoms can be similar to other conditions. However, there are certain criteria that doctors use to help make a diagnosis. The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) has established 11 criteria for the diagnosis of SLE, and a patient must meet at least 4 of these criteria to be diagnosed with SLE. These criteria include:

  1. Malar rash: a butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks and nose
  2. Discoid rash: scaly, red patches on the skin
  3. Photosensitivity: a rash in response to sunlight
  4. Oral ulcers: sores in the mouth or nose
  5. Arthritis: joint pain and swelling
  6. Serositis: inflammation of the lining around the lungs or heart
  7. Renal disorder: abnormal urine test or kidney biopsy
  8. Neurologic disorder: seizures or psychosis
  9. Hematologic disorder: low red or white blood cell counts or low platelets
  10. Immunologic disorder: positive blood tests for antinuclear antibodies (ANA) or other autoantibodies
  11. Positive ANA test: a positive ANA blood test is common in SLE but is not specific to the disease.

Once a diagnosis of SLE is made, treatment options can vary depending on the severity of the disease and the organs involved. The goal of treatment is to control the inflammation and reduce the risk of organ damage. Treatment options may include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, immunosuppressive drugs, and biologic agents.

In addition to medical treatment, many patients with SLE may benefit from lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet and exercise. There is evidence that the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet may be helpful for patients with SLE. The AIP diet is a version of the paleo diet that eliminates foods that are known to cause inflammation and autoimmune reactions, such as grains, dairy, legumes, processed foods, and refined sugars.

The AIP diet emphasizes nutrient-dense, whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, and healthy fats. It also encourages lifestyle changes such as stress reduction, sleep hygiene, and exercise. Studies have shown that the AIP diet can improve symptoms in patients with autoimmune disorders, including SLE.

One study published in the journal Autoimmune Diseases found that the AIP diet improved symptoms in patients with SLE. The study followed 15 patients with SLE who followed the AIP diet for 6 weeks. The patients reported significant improvements in fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, and quality of life.

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