Ovarian function and disease activity in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus

Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2008 May-Jun;26(3):436-41.


Objective: Menstrual cycle disturbances frequently occur during the onset or in exacerbation periods of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), suggesting a possible relationship. The aim of the study is to assess the ovarian function in SLE patients with active disease before the treatment with high doses of glucocorticoids (GC) and cytotoxic agents.

Methods: We evaluated 94 female SLE patients (mean age of 29.2+/-7.0 years). The mean SLEDAI score was 11.4+/-8.1. Seventy-nine patients had a current use of GC with a median dose of 10 mg/day (8-15). The other 15 patients were untreated. After examination and blood sample collection 40% of the patients were treated and high doses of GC (>30 mg/day); 68% from this group of patients were treated GC in combination with cyclophosphamide (CYC). Forty healthy women with the same mean age were evaluated as controls. A careful gynecological history and a gynecological examination were carried out in patients and controls. Hormonal serum levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), prolactin, estradiol (E2) and progesterone in SLE patients and controls were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).

Results: Menstrual cycle disorders with oligomenorrhea as dominant aspect were observed in 54% of SLE patients. The hormonal studies showed decreased progesterone level in 52% of patients, reduced E2 concentration in 25% of patients; increased levels of LH, FSH and prolactin were observed with the lower frequency (13%, 9%, 10% respectively). Menstrual cycle disorders and the hormonal unbalance such as decreased progesterone level and hyperprolactinemia were found related significantly to high SLEDAI score (p<0.05, p=0.001, p<0.05). In the group of non-treated SLE patients the menstrual and hormonal disorders were observed in the same spectrum and with the same frequency as in all the examined SLE patients. SLEDAI score was found correlated significantly with the frequency of menstrual cycle disorders in non-treated SLE patients (p<0.05).

Conclusion: The reported study shows the disease activity as a major factor associated with menstrual cycle disorders in SLE patients before treatment with alkylating agents and high doses of GC. Therefore, SLE women might be considered as a risk group for altered ovarian function.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cyclophosphamide / therapeutic use
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Estrogens / blood
  • Female
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone / blood
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / drug therapy
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / physiopathology*
  • Luteinizing Hormone / blood
  • Menarche / physiology
  • Menstruation / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Oligomenorrhea / blood
  • Oligomenorrhea / epidemiology*
  • Oligomenorrhea / physiopathology
  • Ovary / physiopathology*
  • Prolactin / blood
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index*


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Estrogens
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Cyclophosphamide
  • Prolactin
  • Luteinizing Hormone
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone