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Review Article

Psychiatric Symptoms in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: A Systematic Review

Zsuzsa Szombathyne Meszaros, MD, PhD; Andras Perl, MD, PhD; and Stephen V. Faraone, PhD

Published: May 1, 2012

Article Abstract

Objective: Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) presents with psychiatric symptoms in most patients that often remain undiagnosed and untreated. This study evaluates the prevalence of psychiatric symptoms in SLE on the basis of clinical trials that fulfilled diagnostic criteria specified by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR). Current hypotheses explaining the pathogenesis of psychiatric symptoms of lupus are reviewed to gain new insights into the neuroimmune pathogenesis of other psychiatric disorders.

Data Source: A MEDLINE search of the literature (English language only) from April 1999 to August 2011 was performed using the search terms lupus and psychiatric to identify studies of neuropsychiatric SLE.

Study Selection: Of 163 publications, 18 clinical studies were selected that focused on psychiatric symptoms, had a sample size of at least 20, and included patients of any age or gender as long as they fulfilled ACR criteria for neuropsychiatric SLE.

Data Extraction: The following data were extracted: author name, year of publication, psychiatric diagnostic method, total number of patients with SLE, and percentage of patients with individual psychiatric diagnoses. The point prevalence of psychiatric symptoms was calculated for neuropsychiatric SLE diagnoses in every study included.

Results: Psychiatric symptoms are present in the majority of patients with SLE. Depression (in up to 39% of patients) and cognitive dysfunction (up to 80%) are the most common psychiatric manifestations. Genetic and environmental factors (eg, ultraviolet light, retroviruses, and medications) may play a role in the pathogenesis. In addition, the patient’s reaction to the illness may result in anxiety (up to 24%) and depression. Currently known biomarkers are nonspecific for neuropsychiatric SLE and indicate inflammation, microglial activation, ischemia, oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, and blood-brain barrier dysfunction.

Conclusions: Identification of lupus-specific biomarkers of psychiatric symptoms is a high priority. Our current diagnostic assessment methods need improvement. Development of evidence-based guidelines is needed to improve diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of disabling psychiatric complications in lupus.

J Clin Psychiatry

Submitted: September 28, 2011; accepted February 3, 2012.

Online ahead of print: May 1, 2012 (doi:10.4088/JCP.11r07425).

Corresponding author: Zsuzsa Szombathyne Meszaros, MD, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, SUNY Upstate Medical University, 750 East Adams St, Syracuse, NY 13210 (

Volume: 73

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