Health-related quality of life (HRQoL) is an important outcome measure in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). A review was undertaken of the literature relating to HRQoL in SLE. MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, Allied and Complimentary Medicine were searched to locate full papers in the English language reporting on HRQoL in adult SLE patients published between 1990 and 2005. In total 53 papers were included and the review was subdivided into: 1) description of HRQoL in SLE patients; 2) HRQoL and disease activity and/or damage; 3) the impact of other variables on HRQoL; and 4) HRQoL measures used in clinical trials in SLE patients. The findings were as follows: HRQoL is reduced in SLE patients; HRQoL is not correlated to disease activity or damage; age appears to have a negative impact on HRQoL especially physical health but the effect of disease duration is unclear; other potentially modifiable variables such as fatigue and psychosocial factors impact on HRQoL in a complex manner; and HRQoL measures which are sensitive to change should be an essential outcome measure in all clinical trials on SLE patients.