Lupus complications

If your symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) are mild or well-controlled, you may find that the condition barely affects your day-to-day life, and you may not experience any complications.

You may also find your SLE symptoms significantly improve with age. Many people who are over 50 years of age often find that their SLE symptoms have eased.

However, for some people SLE can be a more serious condition, which sometimes causes life-threatening complications. Some of the possible complications are outlined below.

Kidney damage

SLE can sometimes damage your kidneys causing them to become inflamed. In serious cases, this can lead to kidney failure, which is a potentially fatal condition. Kidney failure is the primary cause of death in people who have SLE.

If you have SLE, your GP will carefully monitor your kidneys in order to make sure that any signs of kidney damage are picked up and, if necessary, treated as soon as possible.

Other autoimmune condition

Approximately 1 in 3 people with SLE also have another autoimmune condition. In people with SLE, the most common secondary autoimmune condition is Sjorgren’s syndrome. This condition affects your tear and salivary glands, causing you to have a dry mouth and eyes. Sjorgren’s syndrome affects 1 in 8 people who have SLE.

Blood conditions

SLE can increase your risk of developing conditions that affect your blood, such as anaemia (where your blood cannot carry enough oxygen to your body, causing dizziness and fatigue) and vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels).

If you have SLE, your risk of developing blood clots is also increased. In turn, blood clotting puts you at a greater risk of having a stroke. Therefore, if you have SLE it is very important that you try to stop smoking because smoking will significantly increase your risk of having a stroke, as well as other serious conditions, such as a heart attack.

Heart conditions

SLE can sometimes cause inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) or of the membrane which surrounds it (pericarditis). Both of these conditions can cause fever and chest pain. Your GP will make sure that your heart is monitored in order to reduce the risk of these conditions developing.


Pleurisy is a condition that affects the lining of tissue between your lungs and rib cage. It can cause sharp chest pain, fever, and shallow breathing.

SLE increases your risk of developing pleurisy, because it can sometimes cause your immune system to attack the tissues which surround your lungs.

Lupus and pregnancy

If you have SLE and you are pregnant, you may be at an increased risk of developing complications during your pregnancy. You may also experience a flare-up of your symptoms during your pregnancy.

If your SLE is mild or your symptoms are well controlled, it is likely that you will experience very few, if any, problems during pregnancy.

However, if your SLE is more severe, you may have an increased risk of:

  • Miscarriage
  • Pre-eclampsia – a condition that causes you to develop high blood pressure (hypertension) and fluid retention.
  • Your baby being born prematurely.