Conventional Treatments for Lupus


What is lupus?

Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the body. The body’s immune system protects the body from infection by attacking invaders, such as viruses and infections. Lupus causes the immune system to mistakenly attack the body’s tissues and organs, causing inflammation, swelling, pain and damage to the body.

Lupus can affect various organs and tissues including, but not limited to, the brain, lungs, heart, kidneys, skin, joints and blood cells. Although most individuals with lupus develop a mild case, it can be severe or life-threatening.

What are the treatment options?

Although there is no cure for lupus, treatment can reduce symptoms. Treatment depends on symptoms and severity. Conventional treatment options include the following:

  • Anti-Inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can decrease swelling and reduce pain symptoms. NSAIDs can be purchased over the counter or stronger NSAIDs in higher doses are available by prescription. Side effects include increased risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney problems or stomach bleeding. NSAIDs should be taken with food or milk to avoid stomach irritation.
  • Antimalarial drugs, such as hydroxychloroquine, can treat skin rashes, mouth sores, fatigue, and joint pain associated with lupus. These medications protect the skin from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, reduce the risk of blood clots and may prevent organ damage. They also decrease the frequency of lupus flares. Antimalarial drugs are recommended during pregnancy to reduce the risk of worsening lupus symptoms in a pregnant mother. Although side effects are rare, an upset stomach or damage to the retina(s) can occur.
  • Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, ease swelling, inflammation, and joint pain and can prevent long-term organ damage. Corticosteroids work by weakening the immune response, which is overactive with lupus. This medication may be prescribed if lupus has caused health issues with the brain, blood vessels, lungs or kidneys. Corticosteroids come in several forms: injections, topical creams and tablets. Side effects may include weight gain, moodiness, increased risk of infections, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, diabetes and high blood pressure. Prescribed dosages should be kept as low as possible to effectively control the symptoms.
  • Immunosuppressive drugs, such as azathioprine and mycophenolate mofetil, may be prescribed if corticosteroids are not effective. Typically, these medications are only used in severe cases of lupus. Immunosuppressive drugs work by suppressing the immune system. They may be prescribed in lower doses and used in combination with corticosteroids to reduce the side effects of each medication. Possible side effects of immunosuppressive drugs include increased risk of infections and cancer, fertility issues, and liver damage.
  • Anti-metabolite medications, such as methotrexate, are a form of chemotherapy that suppresses the immune system to reduce symptoms of lupus.
  • Anticoagulants thin blood to prevent blood clots. Blood clots are a life-threatening symptom of lupus.
  • Biologics, such as belimumab or rituximab, may be prescribed in cases of resistant lupus. This medication targets specific immune cells and is usually administered intravenously. Biologics contain antibodies that block an immune-responsive protein in the body. Side effects may include allergic reactions to the infusion, diarrhea, infections and nausea.

Lupus symptoms can change over time; therefore, medications and treatment should be consistently monitored by a health care professional. Medications or dosage regimens may need to be altered as flares subside or lupus progresses.

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