Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, often shortened to “lupus,” is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s natural defense systems become dysfunctional and begin to attack healthy tissue, instead of bacteria and viruses that are their normal targets. As a result, the individual’s body is subject to widespread inflammation and a variety of symptoms, some of which can be debilitating.
Although the exact causes of lupus are not well understood, a number of medications are available to help treat the symptoms and allow individuals to enjoy greater physical comfort in their normal activities.
Understanding Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
Symptoms of lupus can vary in both their number and severity. Common symptoms include extreme fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain, skin rashes, sensitivity to sunlight, low-grade fever, weight loss, frequent headaches and swollen glands. Other symptoms, such as inflammation of blood vessels in the skin, hair loss, and organ impairment can occur.
Because patients can experience sudden “flares” of the disease, with increased rashes, fatigue or pain, individuals must ensure they follow their treatment regime carefully to prevent worsening of the disease.
While there is no cure for Lupus, the medical community has developed a strategy for treating symptoms that can vastly improve the quality of life for these patients and help them maintain normalcy in their daily activities.
Because Lupus can affect patients with varying degrees of severity, careful monitoring by health professionals is important to prevent organ impairment and to improve longevity. Your doctor will provide the assessment and treatment of your Lupus symptoms to ensure your condition is managed appropriately.
A number of medications are currently being used to manage Lupus in daily life. Dr. Anca Akanase gives a YouTube talk on some of the issues involved in medications taken during treatment of lupus.
NSAIDs stands for “non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs.” It is a category of medications that are commonly used for pain, for lowering fever and for reducing the inflammation of tissues that often leads to pain.
These drugs are extremely useful and effective for these purposes and are widely prescribed for a variety of conditions. The category includes both over-the-counter medications that you find at your local drugstore, as well as prescription medications in higher doses and with different formulations.
Over-the-counter NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Prescription NSAIDs include oxaprozin, naproxen, diclofenac, etodolac, indomethacin, nabumetone, and Vimovo.
These drugs are often used to reduce muscle pain, joint pain, headache, menstrual pain, toothache, and aches and pains from flu.
In cases of lupus, NSAIDs are given to reduce muscle and joint pain, as well to reduce inflammation in these and other tissues.
Because they are milder than other types of lupus medications, they can be given either alone or in combination with other drugs. Large amounts of NSAIDs can cause side effects, such as stomach ulcers or other gastrointestinal distress.
According to the National Resource Center on Lupus, NSAIDs given over a period of time can also reduce blood flow to the kidneys, so patients should take them only as directed by their physicians and should report any unusual symptoms to their doctors immediately.
Corticosteroid drugs often referred to as “steroids,” are in a category of medications that function like naturally occurring hormones produced by the adrenal glands.
These drugs should not be confused with the anabolic steroids used by bodybuilders to increase muscle mass. Corticosteroids are used to quickly reduce inflammation, swelling, warmth, and tenderness in affected tissues.
They reduce the immune system’s response that is triggered when lupus occurs. A National Institutes of Health study notes that corticosteroids can help to extend longevity for patients with lupus.
Steroid drugs can be taken in pill form to reduce pain and inflammation in muscles and joints. It can also be injected directly into the joints or muscles. It can also be used in a topical cream to reduce skin inflammation that occurs in cases of lupus.
Generally, physicians prescribe steroids in the lowest dose necessary to provide an effective result. A number of side effects are associated with steroid use, including weight gain, a rounded face shape, acne, fluid retention, fragile skin, easy bruising, excitability, insomnia, and depression. Steroids can also cause stunted growth in children.
Long-term use of steroids is associated with increased risk for wound infection, osteoporosis, muscle weakness and cataract development.
Because of these risks, your physician will carefully monitor your use of steroid medications and change or limit the dosage as needed.
Antimalarial drugs are those that have been developed to prevent and treat malaria, a disease that is prevalent in tropical areas of the world where mosquitoes transmit the microscopic parasite through their bites.
The drugs work by killing the protozoa in the liver or red blood cells. Some of these medications are effective in preventing the parasitic infection. Others are good for both prevention and treatment of malaria.
During the time of the 2nd World War, it was also found that these drugs could be used to reduce the symptoms of lupus.
Antimalarial drugs can help to reduce joint and muscle pain, improve skin rashes, reduce inflammation of the lining of the heart and lungs, as well as relieve the fatigue and fever that are characteristic of the disease.
They also help to protect the individual against UV light. The drugs work by reducing the effects of the immune system, but without causing additional risk of infection, which makes these drugs useful for treating conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
The most common types of antimalarial drugs used for lupus include hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, and quinacrine.
According to the Johns Hopkins Lupus Center, individuals with lupus who take antimalarial drugs live longer than those that do not.
However, when lupus has progressed to a stage in which internal organs have been affected, additional types of medications are needed to control the disease. Antimalarial drugs can generally be used in combination with other drugs to reduce the symptoms of lupus.
Immunosuppressives are a category of drugs that work to reduce the strength of the body’s immune system. These drugs are often used to treat autoimmune diseases in which the individual’s immune system functions abnormally, attacking healthy tissues instead of bacteria and viruses.
This dysfunction occurs in conditions such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and lupus. These medications are also referred to as “anti-rejection drugs” when they are used to suppress the immune system from rejecting transplanted organs.
Commonly used immunosuppressive drugs include azathioprine, cyclosporine, methotrexate, leflunomide, mycophenolate mofetil, cyclophosphamide, chlorambucil and nitrogen mustard.
These medications may cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bladder problems, hair loss or liver damage. According to the Mayo Clinic, these drugs can also increase the risk for cancer.
Blood tests are often used to monitor the safe dosage of these drugs. Women who are pregnant may become pregnant or who are nursing should not take these medications.
In addition, the medications can interact with other drugs you may be taking. Your doctor will talk to you about side effects and other issues that may be relevant to your treatment.
Dehydroepiandrosterone, shortened to DHEA, is a hormone that is produced naturally by the adrenal glands in the human body. A synthetic form of DHEA is produced in laboratories and is used as a supplement.
Although supplements are generally not recommended for individuals who have been diagnosed with lupus, your physician may advise you to take DHEA.
Some studies indicate that this supplement can help to reduce hair loss, fatigue, joint pain and cognitive difficulties that are often experienced in lupus patients.
The WebMD site notes that DHEA can be useful in helping muscle pain and mouth ulcers that are common in lupus. However, you should only take DHEA as instructed by your physician.
DHEA can have side effects, such as increased growth of facial hair, acne, excessive sweating and lowered production of HDL, the “good” type of cholesterol. Men with lupus should generally not take this supplement.
Pregnant women, women who may become pregnant or nursing mothers should not take DHEA. Individuals who have cancer that is affected by hormones should also avoid taking DHEA, as well as those who have a family history of such cancers.
If you are already under hormone therapy for a condition, you should not take DHEA. If your physician is considering putting you on DHEA supplements, you should have a lengthy discussion weighing its benefits against its drawbacks.
Taking Other Supplements
A number of supplements, herbs and fish oils have been suggested for the treatment of lupus symptoms by various alternative medicine sources.
However, none of these methods have been proven to be effective in scientific research. In fact, some herbs can react with lupus medications, causing unpleasant, or even dangerous, side effects.
Patients who have been diagnosed with lupus should avoid taking any additional supplement before having it approved by their physicians.
Medical treatment of the symptoms of lupus can be important in maintaining a favorable quality of life and to prevent the organ damage that can result from severe cases of the disease.
If you have lupus, regular communication with your physician will help you to receive the medications and treatment you need to ensure good management of the condition.
A number of organizations are available online to provide research on new treatments and medications that can help to control lupus symptoms for better quality of life for patients who suffer from this mysterious and troubling disease.