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Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus) - Treatment Overview

Your treatment choices for lupus depend on how severe your symptoms are, whether your organs are affected, and how much your symptoms are affecting your daily life. Your treatment plans should be tailored to your individual needs and will change over time, as the disease flares or ebbs. There currently is no cure for lupus.

Treatment for mild lupus

The goal of treatment for mild lupus is to prevent symptom flares—when fatigue, joint pain, and rash get worse.

  • Get regular checkups with your doctor, instead of waiting until your disease flares. When flares do occur, the goal is to treat them right away to limit any damage to body organs.
  • Avoid the sun. If you must be in the sun, cover your arms and legs, wear a hat, and apply broad-spectrum sunscreen (covering both UVA and UVB rays) with a high sun protection factor (such as SPF 50) to protect your skin.
  • Use corticosteroid cream for rashes.
  • Take acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and get plenty of rest for mild joint or muscle pain and fever.
  • Take antimalarial medicines, especially for skin rashes. They also help with fatigue and joint and muscle pain.
  • Take low-dose corticosteroids if NSAIDs aren't effective in controlling your symptoms.

Treatment for more severe lupus

If your lupus is causing or threatening organ damage, is life-threatening, or is seriously impacting your quality of life, you may also need to take:

  • Corticosteroids in higher doses, either in pills or through a vein in your arm (IV).
  • Medicine that suppresses your immune system (immunosuppressants).

To learn more, see Medications.

If you develop serious kidney disease that cannot be controlled with medicine, you may need dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Self-care

Good self-care is essential to managing lupus. A healthy lifestyle may reduce how often you have flares and how severe they are. It can improve your quality of life. Good self-care also helps decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Self-care includes getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet. To learn more, see Home Treatment.

What to think about

Taking corticosteroids by mouth and being physically inactive put people with lupus at great risk of bone thinning (osteoporosis). Getting an adequate supply of calcium and vitamin D may slow the bone thinning process. Your doctor may also prescribe bisphosphonates, a type of medicine that is also used for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. To learn more, see the topic Osteoporosis.

Lupus treatment is complicated by several things. The course and pattern of lupus symptoms vary widely. Flares and remissions can occur at any time, making it hard to tell how you are responding to treatment or which treatments are most helpful. Some treatment side effects can be as troubling as the symptoms of lupus.

It may not be possible to completely eliminate all of your symptoms for long periods of time, especially without the side effects from medicines. Work closely with your doctor to reach a balance between reasonably controlling your symptoms, preventing damage to your organs, and minimizing side effects of long-term drug treatment. For example, you may take a dose of medicine that will control lupus enough to prevent organ damage, but you may still have symptoms such as mild skin rash, muscle aches, and joint pain.

Using higher doses of medicines for a long time increases the risk of serious side effects. Your doctor will prescribe a dose that controls only the most serious, life-threatening symptoms and balances the risks of the medicines with the benefits of controlling your symptoms.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 10, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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