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Keywords:

  • epidemiology;
  • ethnicity;
  • geographic distribution;
  • systemic lupus erythematosus

Abstract

Aim

Clinical features of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) have been described from different geographical regions around the world. However, data from North African countries, including Tunisia, are scarce.

Methods

The aim of this retrospective multicenter study was to analyze demographic, clinical, laboratory features and outcome of SLE in Tunisia throughout 14 Departments of Internal Medicine and to compare them with those of other ethnic and geographic groups.

Results

Seven hundred and forty-nine cases of SLE were recorded (American College of Rheumatology criteria) during a 17-year period (1989–2006). They were 676 women and 73 men with an average age at SLE onset of approximately 30.66 years. Our Tunisian patients were characterized by a high frequency of photosensitivity (67.6%), malar rash (68.7%), renal involvement (49.5%) and anti-Sm antibodies (44.8%). Infections were the main complications. Fifty-six (7.5%) patients died during the study period.

Conclusion

Potential limitations and biases in our study need discussion. Specific recruitment of patients in tertiary referral centers may be the source of selection bias and adding to the frequency of moderate or even severe diseases. The therapeutic management and outcome monitoring were heterogeneous due to the fact that patients were evaluated by different doctors. However, this study remains the most representative of Tunisian SLE patients recruited from all parts of Tunisia.