Although there is currently no cure for lupus, most patients can reduce their symptoms and maintain a normally-functioning immune system with proper treatment. In recent years, treatment for lupus has steadily improved.
Treatment for lupus depends each patient’s unique symptoms. Determining whether your lupus symptoms should be treated, as well as what medications to use, is an important conversation to have with your doctor. They can provide you with information regarding the benefits and risks of those choices. As your symptoms flare and subside, you and your doctor can work together to modify treatment as necessary.
What Does Lupus Treatment Include?
Treatments for lupus vary based on the severity of your disease. Lupus doesn’t affect each person in the same way, so it is important to closely understand your specific symptoms and discuss any changes in your health with your physician. This will help you to develop a treatment plan that is right for you. Some of the most common treatments for lupus include:
• Medications to reduce inflammation and activity of the immune system
• Balancing rest with exercise
• Maintaining a healthy diet
• Drug therapy
For most lupus patients, making positive lifestyle changes allows them to better manage the disease and improve their quality of life. It is very important to stay as active as possible and eat a balanced diet that will promote good health. Other preventive measures that can help you to better cope with lupus include:
• Regular exercise, which helps to prevent muscle weakness and fatigue
• Immunizations to protect against specific infections
• Lifestyle adjustments, such as getting plenty of rest and reducing stress
• Eating a balanced diet
• Not smoking
• Avoiding excessive sun exposure and regularly applying sunscreen, which can reduce rashes and decrease flares in lupus
Drug Treatment for Lupus
Treatment depends on the type of symptoms you have and how severe they are. Patients with muscle or joint pain, fatigue, rashes and other symptoms that are not considered life-threatening can receive a more conservative treatment that includes over-the-counter treatment like NSAIDs. NSAIDs decrease swelling, pain, and fever. Because some of these NSAIDs can cause serious side effects like stomach bleeding or kidney damage, it is imperative that you consult your doctor before taking them.
Other symptoms require prescription medication for treatment. Many lupus patients receive an antimalarial medication such as hydroxychloroquine (or Plaquenil). Though these drugs prevent and treat malaria, they also help to relieve some lupus symptoms, such as fatigue, rashes, joint pain and mouth sores. They also may help to prevent abnormal blood clotting.
Patients with serious or life-threatening problems such as kidney inflammation, lung or heart symptoms, and central nervous system symptoms may need stronger treatment. This may include high-dose corticosteroids such as prednisone, as well as drugs that suppress the immune system.
In 2011, the first drug designed to treat lupus – Benlysta (belimumab) – was approved by the FDA. Benlysta works by reducing the body’s ability to attack its own tissues. Given monthly by intravenous infusion in a physician’s office, this new drug had an immediate effect on lupus patients. This exciting treatment provides hope that some of the other drugs that researchers are currently testing in patients will help lupus.