Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), or lupus, is a potentially fatal autoimmune disease that affects about 1.5 million Americans. About 16,000 new cases of lupus are diagnosed each year, and the actual number of people who have the disease may be much higher. Worldwide, lupus affects about 5 million people, mostly women between the ages of 15 and 44 years.[1] The disease derived its name from the Latin word for wolf after 13th-century physician Rogerius, who likened the appearance of lupus facial lesions to the bite marks made by a wolf. [2]:

In lupus, the body’s immune system malfunctions and begins to attack healthy tissue throughout the body, including the skin, joints, heart, lungs, kidneys, brain and blood vessels. Although the cause of lupus hasn’t been identified, most researchers believe it to be a combination of genetics and environmental exposures. Potential disease triggers in those who are susceptible to lupus include viral or bacterial infections that set off an abnormal immune reaction; medications such as blood pressure drugs, anti-seizure medications or certain antibiotics; or even exposure to sunlight. [3]


Lupus can cause symptoms throughout the body, and they can vary widely from person to person. Symptoms can also change dramatically as the disease takes its course. One of the hallmark signs of lupus is the so-called butterfly rash, a red rash that occurs midface, spreading across the cheeks and the bridge of the nose. Although the rash is often indicative of the disease, it does not occur in all people with lupus.

  • Fatigue
  • Swollen, painful joints
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chronic headaches
  • Low red blood cell count (anemia) or decline in total blood volume
  • Fever
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sores in the mouth or nose
  • Swelling in the extremities around the eyes
  • Hair loss
  • Pleurisy (presenting as chest pain during deep breaths)
  • Abnormal blood clotting

Organ-specific symptoms include [4]:

  • Brain/nervous system: numbness, tingling, seizures, mood or personality changes
  • Heart: arrhythmias
  • Lung: breathing problems
  • Gastrointestinal tract: nausea and vomiting

When lupus affects the kidneys, a potentially life-threatening condition called lupus nephritis can develop.

Because so many lupus symptoms occur in other diseases and medical conditions as well, including other immune-mediated diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, diagnosing lupus can be problematic, and a blood test is used to confirm diagnosis to ensure proper treatment. [5]


There is currently no cure for lupus. Treatment is focused on relieving symptoms with medications and lifestyle changes that are dependent on each person’s condition, the stage of the disease and the symptoms. Treatments typically change as the disease evolves over time. Medications used to treat lupus include: [6]

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen sodium are used to treat pain and inflammation, and prescriptions NSAIDs may be used when over-the-counter remedies prove ineffectual.
  • Corticosteroids like prednisone can provide stronger anti-inflammatory benefits, but long-term use also comes with more side effects, including increased risks for diabetes, osteoporosis and infections, and significant weight gain.
  • Immunosuppressants to suppress the immune system and help slow the progression of the disease. Immunosuppressants can have serious side effects, including an increased risks of serious infections, liver damage and cancer, and are primarily used only in advanced cases of lupus. Other side effects include gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea and fever.
  • Antimalarial drugs can also be used to help control lupus in some patients. Side effects include upset stomach and retinal damage in rare cases.

Lifestyle modifications include getting plenty of rest, not just at night but also during the day to combat fatigue; avoiding prolonged sun exposure; getting plenty of exercise; eating a healthy diet; and quitting smoking.

Want to find out more?

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)

Phone Number (required)

Your Message

Please leave this field empty.


Stem cells have been evaluated in multiple studies for their efficacy in manageing systemic lupus, and so far, results have been very promising. One study from researchers in China found stem cell management resulted in sustained clinical remission among patients studied, with 50 percent to 70 percent disease-free survival at five years. The study also found patients experienced positive immune system changes that were not seen with other types of management. [7]

The researchers attributed the beneficial effects of stem cell management to “resetting” the immune system to eliminate abnormal responses that cause immune cells to attack the organs and other tissues of people with lupus, either by directly replacing the cells of the immune system or by “shifting the immune system from a highly pro-inflammatory disease environment to a less inflammatory one.”

A second study also from China managed four patients who did not respond to conventional management with allogenic stem cells – those derived from a donor rather than from their own tissues – and found patients maintained remission for 12 to 18 months, the length of the follow-up period. [8] The researchers also found patients exhibited improvement in disease markers and kidney function.

Results were duplicated in a larger study of patients who failed to respond to aggressive management approaches. In that study 60 percent of patients had “a major or partial clinical response” that was maintained during the 12-month follow-up period. Additionally, 81 percent of patients were able to reduce their use of steroids and 54 percent were able to reduce immunosuppressant medications. [9]

Management with stem cells also improves long-term survival rates, according to research completed at Northwestern University. After a 29-month follow-up period, researchers reported a five-year survival of 84 percent and a 50 percent likelihood of disease-free survival. [10]

Suggested Reading:

  1. What is lupus? Lupus Foundation of America.
  2. Where did the name “lupus” come from? Lupus Foundation of America.
  3. Lupus causes. Mayo Clinic.
  4. Lupus. National Stem Cell Foundation.
  5. What are the common symptoms of lupus? Lupus Foundation of America.
  6. Lifestyle and home remedies. Mayo Clinic.
  7. Yan, S, Deng, X, Wei, W. A big step forward in the treatment of refractory systemic lupus erythematosus: allogenic mesenchymal stem cell transplantation. Acta Pharmacologica Sinica. 2013;34(4):453-454. doi:10.1038/aps.2013.33.
  8. Sun L, Akiyama K, Zhang H, et al. Mesenchymal Stem Cell Transplantation Reverses Multi-Organ Dysfunction in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Mice and Humans. Stem cells (Dayton, Ohio). 2009;27(6):1421-1432. doi:10.1002/stem.68.
  9. Stem cells seen as promising in lupus MedPage Today.
  10. Burt RK, Traynor A, Statkute L, et al. Nonmyeloablative Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. JAMA. 2006;295(5):527-535. doi:10.1001/jama.295.5.527.

Allogeneic mesenchymal stem cell transplantation for lupus nephritis patients refractory to conventional therapy.

Gu F, Wang D, Zhang H, Feng X, Gilkeson GS, Shi S, Sun L.

Clin Rheumatol. 2014 Nov;33(11):1611-9. doi: 10.1007/s10067-014-2754-4.

Umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cell transplantation in active and refractory systemic lupuserythematosus: a multicenter clinical study.

Wang D, Li J, Zhang Y, Zhang M, Chen J, Li X, Hu X, Jiang S, Shi S, Sun L.

Arthritis Res Ther. 2014 Mar 25;16(2):R79. doi: 10.1186/ar4520.

Allogeneic mesenchymal stem cell transplantation in severe and refractory systemic lupuserythematosus: 4 years of experience.

Wang D, Zhang H, Liang J, Li X, Feng X, Wang H, Hua B, Liu B, Lu L, Gilkeson GS, Silver RM, Chen W, Shi S, Sun L.

Cell Transplant. 2013;22(12):2267-77. doi: 10.3727/096368911X582769.

Mesenchymal SCT ameliorates refractory cytopenia in patients with systemic lupuserythematosus.

Li X, Wang D, Liang J, Zhang H, Sun L.

Bone Marrow Transplant. 2013 Apr;48(4):544-50. doi: 10.1038/bmt.2012.184.

Mesenchymal stem cell transplantation reverses multiorgan dysfunction in systemic lupuserythematosus mice and humans.

Sun L, Akiyama K, Zhang H, Yamaza T, Hou Y, Zhao S, Xu T, Le A, Shi S.

Stem Cells. 2009 Jun;27(6):1421-32. doi: 10.1002/stem.68.

Actual results may vary. The statements are not intended to imply that the results would be the same or similar for each patient. Each patient is unique and no particular result or outcome can be predicted or guaranteed. The statements in this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Some of these procedures may be considered experimental. These procedures are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. The use of stem cells is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration to combat aging or to prevent, treat, cure or mitigate any disease or medical condition mentioned, cited or described in this website. The science of treatment with stem cells is in its early stages and stem cell treatments are not considered to be the standard of care for any medical condition, ailment, illness or disease. There could be significant and unknown risks associated with stem cell treatments, as long-term studies have not been performed.