Lupus Treatment

What Is Lupus Treatment?

Lupus treatment is the best way to manage your symptoms, feel better, and keep the disease from getting worse.

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

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

Medications for Lupus

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) can usually help with these problems. You can buy them without a prescription.

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs include:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

Side effects of anti-inflammatory drugs

Sometimes, anti-inflammatories can irritate your stomach, so take them with food or milk. NSAIDs, especially at higher doses, raise your chances of a heart attack or stroke.

Antimalarial drugs

Some medications that treat malaria can also treat lupus. They might help with skin rashes, mouth sores, and joint pain. They may also lower your chance 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 of antimalarial drugs

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 swelling, warmth, and soreness in joints that’s caused by inflammation. They can also prevent long-term organ damage.

Side effects of corticosteroids

Corticosteroids can have serious side effects like:

You may also have weight gain, bloating, and mood changes. Your doctor will probably give you the lowest dose they can and taper it 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. Your doctor may prescribe them if corticosteroids haven’t helped your symptoms.

Common immunosuppressive drugs for lupus include:

  • Azathioprine (Imuran)
  • Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan)
  • Methotrexate (Rheumatrex)

In some cases, you may use immunosuppressive drugs along with corticosteroids. That way, you'll be taking a lower amount of each type of drug, reducing the possible side effects.

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

Side effects of immunosuppressive drugs

Immunosuppressives 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.

Side effects of azathioprine include pancreatitis or a form of hepatitis. Cyclophosphamide may lead to bladder problems, hair loss, or fertility problems. Methotrexate can cause nausea, headaches, mouth sores, sun sensitivity, lung infections, and liver damage.

Other medications

Your doctor may also prescribe one or more of these types of drugs:

  • Anticoagulants. These thin your blood to prevent clots, a life-threatening lupus symptom.
  • Monoclonal antibodies. Belimumab (Benlysta) is the first drug created just to treat lupus. Given intravenously (in a vein) or subcutaneously (under your skin), it targets specific immune cells. It may help reduce your need for steroid treatment, but it hasn’t been tested thoroughly for the most severe forms of lupus. Rituxan (Rituximab) is another monoclonal antibody that can sometimes treat lupus when other treatments haven’t worked.
  • Repository corticotropin injection. A medicine called H.P. Acthar Gel may help your body make its own steroid hormones like cortisol to fight inflammation.

Side effects of other medications

Common side effects of anticoagulants include bloating, diarrhea, upset stomach, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Rarely, you may have bruising, a skin rash, a sore throat, back pain, or yellow skin and eyes (jaundice).

Monoclonal antibodies might cause problems like headache, nausea, hives, or blood pressure changes. These usually go away over time.

Acthar Gel may cause swelling, changes in blood pressure or glucose tolerance, mood changes, stronger appetite, or weight gain.

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Alternative Treatments for Lupus

Alternative medicine is any treatment that you use instead of traditional medicine. Some people with lupus try to ease symptoms with:

Studies haven’t shown that these things work in place of medical treatment. In fact, some supplements may make your lupus symptoms worse.

But some research has found that acupuncture, meditation, and biofeedback can relieve pain and stress when used alongside traditional treatments. This is called complementary medicine.

Talk to your doctor before trying any alternative or complementary treatments for lupus.

Lifestyle Changes

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 Brunilda Nazario, MD on July 20, 2020

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."

Lupus Foundation of America: “Are there complementary and alternative medicine therapies for lupus?”

Texas Heart Institute: “Anticoagulants.”

Pharmaceuticals: “Monoclonal Antibodies for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE).”

FDA: “H.P. Acthar Gel Medication Guide.”

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health: “Lupus diagnosis and treatment.”

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