Health Facts

SLE/ Rheumatoid Arthritis

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus/Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatic arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) are two different disease that are caused when the body’s immune system mistakenly starts damaging their own body cells. Also, called auto-immune diseases, these two diseases have many similarities and differences.

What are SLE and RA?

Both SLE and RA are autoimmune diseases that cause inflammation in the body. RA involves damage of the small joints in the body, whereas SLE is more a systemic disease, and can involve damage to other major organs in addition to the joints.


Both SLE and RA symptoms tend to appear in younger age groups, i.e., 30-50 years in RA and 15-45 years in case of SLE.

Symptoms specific to SLE include:


Pain and swelling in the joints (stiffness develops overtime)

Butterfly shaped rash across the nose and cheeks



Sensitivity to sunlight
or fluorescent light

Hair loss

Ulcers in mouth
or nose

Numbness at the
tips of fingers & toes

Symptoms specific to RA include:


Pain, stiffness or swelling of the joints for more than 6 weeks

due to pain

Pain in multiple joints (Pain in smaller joints at first, then symmetrical in same joints i.e. left & right sides of the body)

Both conditions share similar symptoms (obvious similarity is joint pain and fatigue).

Differences in SLE & RA symptoms


  • Lupus (SLE) affects joints, but mainly affects internal organs and your skin. It causes other complications such as seizures, increased blood clotting frequency, and kidney failure.
  • RA primarily attacks your joints in your fingers, wrists, knees and ankles. RA can cause inflammation in the lungs and around your heart, which is not the case with lupus.
  • Pain in the joints in case of RA is more in the mornings and subsides later in the day, whereas the pain is consistent throughout the day in SLE.
  • In advanced stages, RA can cause bone deformation (changes in bone shape) while SLE does not.


The cause of either of the diseases is not clear. It is said to be influenced by genetic, hormonal and environmental factors.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Initial stages of both SLE & RA can be confusing as they share common characteristics and mimic other conditions. This can cause a delay in the diagnosis. Diagnosis can be done by:

    • Careful examination of signs and symptoms (ruling out other conditions)
    • Combination of blood tests & urine tests

As these are autoimmune disorders, there is no definite cure. Treatment only helps in managing the symptoms and prevent frequency and intensity of flares. Common treatments include anti-inflammatory drugs, painkillers, and immune modifying drugs.

FAQ's :

It is not a hereditary disease. However, if an immediate family member is having SLE, there is a risk that you may be affected as well. Example – a possibility between twin siblings.

Research is being done towards genetic testing and to create personalised medicine for SLE.

The most significant genetic risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis are variations in human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes, especially the HLA-DR4 gene.

An anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP/ACCP) test is an antibody test that looks for the presences of antibodies in a person and confirms rheumatoid arthritis.

References :

  1. Mayo Clinic. Accessed on 28-03-2022
  1. What is lupus? Versus arthritis. Accessed on 28-03-2022
  1. Lupus vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis: What’s the Difference? Creaky Joints. Accessed on 28-03-2022
  1. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed on 28-03-2022
  1. Rheumatoid Arthritis. MedlinePlus. Accessed on 28-03-2022

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