How Is Lupus Treated?

In this lupus treatments overview, you'll learn about the medications and lifestyle changes that can help manage lupus symptoms.

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Lupus has no cure. Still, people who have this autoimmune disease can control their symptoms with a treatment plan they create with their doctors. Because no two cases of lupus are exactly the same, treatments can vary from person to person. But the goals are typically similar: Prevent and treat flares, and reduce problems related to lupus (like organ damage, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and infection).

Medications

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) are often used to treat lupus pain and swelling. If drugstore versions don't work, then your doctor may prescribe you a stronger one.

Antimalarial drugs: Drugs that treat malaria may be used in combination with other medications to control lupus symptoms like skin rashes, mouth ulcers, and joint pain. The most commonly prescribed antimalarial drugs for lupus are hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) and chloroquine (Aralen). The risk for complications is low, though some may experience stomach upset while getting used to the meds. It's also recommended that patients who use these drugs visit an ophthalmologist annually for an eye exam since one rare side effect is retinal damage.

Corticosteroids: Prednisone is the most commonly prescribed steroid for lupus. These drugs treat the symptoms of inflammation—which include swelling, warmth, tenderness, and pain—by lessening the immune system's response. The downside: There are a lot of side effects, and the chances of experiencing them increase the longer you use the steroid. Side effects can include weight gain, acne, high blood pressure, diabetes, and an increased risk of infection.

Immunosuppressants: This type of drug controls inflammation and an overactive immune system. They are commonly prescribed when corticosteroids fail to control symptoms or a patient can't tolerate high doses of steroids. Drugs include azathioprine (Imuran, Azasan), mycophenolate (CellCept), leflunomide (Arava), and methotrexate (Trexall). Side effects vary by drug but can include increased risk of infection and liver damage.

Lifestyle remedies

Get enough sleep: Fatigue is one of the most persistent symptoms of lupus, so it's essential for patients to get adequate rest.

Stay out of the sun: Exposure to the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays can trigger a lupus flare-up. Stick to the shade when you're outside, and always wear sunscreen rated at least SPF 55.

Don't smoke: Quitting smoking should be a priority for anyone who still lights up—not just people with lupus. For people living with lupus, smoking can worsen the effects of lupus on your heart and blood vessels.

Keep stress in check: Stress can trigger a lupus flare. Don't be afraid to say "no," surround yourself with people you love, exercise regularly, and listen to your body.

Eat well: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains is important for everyone, but especially people living with lupus. There is a strong connection between lupus and heart disease, so a heart-healthy diet should be a top priority.

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