The term “lupus” can describe several different conditions. However, the most commonly occurring in the United States, including Ohio, is systemic lupus erythematosus. According to the Centers for Disease Control, SLE is also the most serious type of lupus.

SLE is a bewildering condition. It is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the immune system, which is supposed to protect the body from disease, instead starts attacking the body’s own tissues. SLE can range in severity from mild to life-threatening. A serious case may qualify the patient for Social Security Disability benefits.

No one knows what causes systemic lupus erythematosus, although genetic, hormonal and environmental factors may all play a part. According to the Mayo Clinic, SLE diagnosis usually takes place in patients between the ages of 15 and 45. Race may be a risk factor, as SLE is more prevalent among Asian Americans, African Americans and Hispanics. The condition affects women more often than men.

SLE can affect different systems of the body, which means that there can be a wide variation in symptoms. The most recognizable sign is a facial rash that spreads across the nose and cheeks in the shape of a butterfly. The wide range of symptoms, which can sometimes mimic those of other disorders, can make the diagnosis of SLE difficult. A doctor may have to perform blood tests, such as an antinuclear antibody test.

A positive ANA test is not a definitive indicator of SLE. It merely indicates that something has stimulated the immune system. More specific antibody testing may be necessary to make a firm diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus.