While some minor lupus cases can be handled without medication, most people with lupus require medication to minimize symptoms and maintain normal functions. Treatment is based on specific disease activity, ongoing monitoring, management and care is essential.
Although there’s no cure yet, medications can control symptoms and prevent or slow organ damage. With any medication use, talk with your healthcare provider or pharmacist about its purpose and potential side effects. Many people find it helpful to keep a medical journal.
Your physician will develop a treatment plan to fit your needs. You should review the plan together periodically to be sure it is working. Report new symptoms right away so that treatment can be changed if needed.
Treatments for lupus depend on the type of lupus being treated as well as individual signs and symptoms. These may include joint pain and swelling, muscle aches and skin rashes, fatigue or swelling around the heart and lungs, among others.
The goals of your individual treatment plan are to:
- Prevent flares
- Control symptoms and treat flares when they occur
- Reduce organ damage and other problems
Determining whether your signs and symptoms should be treated and what medications to use requires a careful discussion of the benefits and risks with your physician. As your signs and symptoms flare and subside, you and your physician may find that you may need to change medications or dosages.
Treatments may include drugs to:
- Reduce swelling and pain
- Prevent or reduce flares
- Help the immune system
- Reduce or prevent damage to joints
- Balance the hormones
Common medications used to treat lupus include: aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (see glossary); antimalarial drugs such as chloroquine phosphate (Nivaquine), Mepacrine (Quinacrine Atabrin) and hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil); or corticosteroids (see glossary). In serious cases immunosuppressive drugs may also be prescribed.
Rest, stress reduction and a healthy diet and lifestyle are also important. In addition, the use of sunscreens is advocated in all patients, even in non-tropical regions, as ultraviolet light may exacerbate lupus.
FDA approved drugs
In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Benlysta (belimumab) to treat lupus. Benlysta is used to treat people with active autoantibody-positive lupus who are receiving standard therapy, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antimalarials, corticosteroids and immunosuppressives. Belimumab is a B-lymphocyte stimulator protein inhibitor that is thought to decrease the amount of abnormal B cells, which is hypothesized to be a mechanism of action in lupus. Prior to Benlysta, the FDA had approved Plaquenil and corticosteroids (1955) and aspirin (1948) to treat lupus.