What Is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus?

Immune System Systemic lupus erythematosus (also known as SLE or lupus) is an autoimmune disorder, a condition in which the body's immune system attacks its own healthy cells and tissues.

Lupus is characterized by periodic episodes of inflammation of and damage to the joints, tendons, other connective tissues and organs, including the heart, lungs, blood vessels, brain, kidneys and skin. Lupus affects each individual differently and the effects of the illness range from mild to severe. The disease is known to have periods of flare-ups and periods of remission (partial or complete lack of symptoms).

The majority of people with lupus (90 percent) are female, and most first develop signs and symptoms of the illness between the ages of 15 to 44. Lupus also affects more African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans than Caucasians. And although improvements in the care and understanding of SLE have helped to slow the death rate due to this complex autoimmune disease, it still remains fatal for many minorities, as a result of genetic and ethnic factors.

The Division of Rheumatology

The Division of Rheumatology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital deals primarily with the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis and autoimmune diseases. Our mission is the prevention, cure and relief of suffering from arthritis and rheumatic diseases, providing patient-centered, integrated care guided by research-based evidence.

Our practice of integrating clinical care with leading-edge research in every area of rheumatology puts us shoulder-to-shoulder with the world's most renowned hospitals. Our program is one of 8 centers in the United States funded by a Multidisciplinary Clinical Research Centers (MCRC) (P60) grant from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. The arthritis center's multidisciplinary team diagnoses and treats arthritic, rheumatic and autoimmune disorders.

Chicago Magazine rated our rheumatologists among the list of the “Best Doctors in Chicago.” Additionally, the Division of Rheumatology is currently recognized as high performing by U.S. News & World Report 2018–2019.

The Rheumatology staff consults with colleagues in Orthopaedic Surgery and Physical Rehabilitation Medicine to provide the best possible patient care. We offer special expertise in diagnosing and treating:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Systematic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • The management of rheumatic diseases during pregnancy
  • Bursitis
  • Gout and other crystal-induced arthropathies
  • Scleroderma
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Tendonitis
  • Vasculitis

Because rheumatology involves more than just one organ system, our rheumatology staff consults with pulmonary, cardiology and nephrology specialists, as well as colleagues in orthopaedic surgery and physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Our staff also works closely with dermatology specialists in areas such as psoriasis, lupus and many other diseases that have important skin manifestations.

Current initiatives of the Division of Rheumatology include:

  • A highly competitive, nationally renowned training program for rheumatology fellows
  • An active translational research program linking laboratory research with patient care
  • Close collaborations with pharmaceutical companies and other research sponsors to develop more effective therapies

Northwestern Medicine Regional Group Rheumatology

At Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group, a multidisciplinary team of highly trained specialists addresses range of diseases that affect the body’s connective tissue. Arthritic, rheumatic and autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis, are common conditions treated by rheumatologists. Our physicians are also available to consult on other musculoskeletal disorders including shoulder, hip and knee pain and will work closely with your integrated care team to provide a comprehensive plan for treatment.

Pediatric Rheumatology

There are more than 100 different rheumatic diseases. Any of these could cause pain, stiffness or swelling that dramatically affects the quality of your child’s life. To return to an active life as quickly as possible, your child deserves attention provided by pediatric rheumatologists on the leading edge of rheumatology diagnosis and treatment. Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital and Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital* delivers this care in a location close to home.