Subacute cutaneous lupus (SCLE) causes skin sores or rashes. It is an autoimmune disorder, meaning it occurs when your immune system attacks itself. Some prescription drugs may increase your risk for SCLE. There is no cure for SCLE. Treatment can help you manage symptoms and avoid SCLE rash flare-ups.
There are several variants of cutaneous lupus. Subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus (SCLE) is one type of cutaneous lupus. Cutaneous is a term for skin. Cutaneous lupus includes the types of lupus that affect your skin.
People with SCLE develop skin rashes or lesions (sores). “Subacute” refers to the depth of inflammation seen with a skin biopsy.
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When people refer to lupus, they usually mean systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). SLE is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system attacks its own tissues, causing inflammation and damage. SLE is the most common form of lupus and typically affects more than one organ.
Some people have SLE without skin involvement. Others will have cutaneous lupus without the systemic manifestations of SLE.
There are three types of cutaneous lupus. Each type causes different skin rashes:
Most people who have SCLE do not have SLE. However, people with SCLE may have systemic symptoms such as arthritis.
It's hard to estimate how many people have cutaneous lupus. The Lupus Foundation of America estimates approximately 1.5 million Americans and at least 5 million people worldwide have a form of lupus. Lupus is much more common in women of child bearing age.
The cause of SCLE is complex. It likely involves genetic factors as well as environmental factors such as ultraviolet radiation, medications, tobacco use and possibly infections.
In up to 20% to 30% of people with SCLE, the condition develops after taking certain medications. Common medications include:
Lupus has a strong genetic component, meaning it runs in families. Lupus is more common in:
Subacute cutaneous lupus causes a rash. The rash typically occurs on sun-exposed areas of your body, such as your neck, chest, back and arms. The rash can look like:
The rash typically does not itch or scar. However, when the rash resolves, it may leave skin discoloration.
A dermatologist (a physician specializing in skin, hair and nails) can diagnose subacute cutaneous lupus with a skin biopsy. During a biopsy, your dermatologist removes a small sample of skin. The skin is sent to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope. This examination can determine whether a skin rash is due to lupus or another condition.
Depending on how severe your symptoms are, your healthcare provider may recommend topical or oral medications.
Treatments may include:
SCLE rash flares are typically caused by certain triggers. Most commonly, lupus flares occur after exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light.
There is no way to prevent subacute cutaneous lupus. To decrease the frequency and severity of skin rashes:
Subacute cutaneous lupus is a lifelong (chronic) condition that waxes and wanes. Your outlook depends on if you have systemic involvement.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Subacute cutaneous lupus causes a rash. Usually, SCLE affects sun-exposed areas of the body, such as your neck, chest, back and arms. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medications to treat lupus. You can also limit flares by avoiding sun exposure. Subacute cutaneous lupus is a lifelong condition. With treatment, many people can prevent severe flares.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/10/2021.
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