Understanding Lupus -- Treatment

People are living longer and better with lupus than ever before. Although there's no cure for lupus, there are treatments and lifestyle changes that can help you manage your symptoms.

Treatment for lupus -- also known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) -- depends on your symptoms and how severe they are. Treatment can help:

  • Ease your symptoms
  • Bring down inflammation
  • Prevent and relieve flares
  • Prevent organ damage and other health problems

Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

If you have lupus, you may have joint pain and swelling, especially in your fingers, wrists, or knees. Sometimes you may have a fever. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can usually help you ease both of those problems.

You can buy them without a prescription. Sometimes they can irritate your stomach, so take them with food or milk. Also be aware that using NSAIDs, especially at higher doses increase your risk for heart attack or stroke.

Antimalarial Drugs

Some medications used to treat malaria can also treat lupus. They are used to treat skin rashes, mouth sores, and joint pain. They may also reduce your risk of blood clots, which is a concern in some people with lupus.

Antimalarial drugs protect against skin damage from ultraviolet rays in sunlight and may protect your body against organ damage linked to lupus. Side effects like stomach upset tend to be rare and mild.

Corticosteroids

Lupus makes parts of your immune system overactive, so it attacks healthy tissue by mistake. Corticosteroids weaken this immune response. Your doctor may prescribe them if lupus causes problems in your heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, or blood vessels.

Taken as a pill or IV, corticosteroids work fast to ease the swelling, warmth, and soreness in joints caused by inflammation. They can also prevent long-term organ damage.

Corticosteroids can have serious side effects like:

You may also have weight gain, bloating, and mood changes from taking corticosteroids. So your doctor will likely give you the lowest dose possible and taper them off if your symptoms go away for a time.

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Immunosuppressive Drugs

Like corticosteroids, these drugs curb your immune system, bring symptoms under control, and help prevent long-term organ damage. They can also have severe side effects. For example, they can make it hard for your body to fight infections and raise your chances for some kinds of cancer.

Your doctor may prescribe them if corticosteroids have not helped your symptoms.

Immunosuppressive drugs are sometimes used together with corticosteroids. That way you'll be taking a lower amount of each type of drug, reducing the possible side effects of each drug.

With both types of drugs, you and your doctor need to weigh the risks of side effects against how well they improve your lupus symptoms.

Anticoagulants and Monoclonal Antibodies

Your doctor may also prescribe two other types of drugs:

Anticoagulants. These thin your blood to prevent blood clots, a life-threatening lupus symptom.

Monoclonal antibodies. Belimumab (Benlysta), the first drug created just to treat lupus, was approved by the FDA in 2011. Given intravenously (in the vein), it targets specific immune cells. It may help reduce your need for steroid treatment, but it has not been tested thoroughly for the most severe forms of lupus. Rituxan (Rituximab) is another monoclonal antibody that has sometimes been used to treat lupus when other treatments have not been successful.

Lifestyle Changes

Having a healthy lifestyle will help you feel better and prevent flares. It can also help prevent problems linked to lupus, like kidney disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Try these tips:

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on September 09, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Family Doctor: "Lupus."

Lupus Foundation of America: "What is the prognosis for a person with lupus?" "What medications are used to treat lupus?" "What do I need to know about Benlysta?"

UpToDate: "Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) (Beyond the Basics)" and "Overview of the therapy and prognosis of systemic lupus erythematosus in adults."

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