Lupus is a complex and ongoing autoimmune disorder where the body attacks healthy cells in different parts of the body by mistake. Every person with lupus is unique, therefore, treatments depend entirely on each person’s specific signs and symptoms.
This blog is intended to be a brief “breakdown” of the most common medications and treatments used to help control lupus. I hope this is helpful to you, if you are either a) newly diagnosed, or b) a lupus veteran dealing with new symptoms.
Antimalarial drugs. As the name suggests, these medications are commonly used to treat malaria. Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), is the number one medication prescribed for those who have lupus, and is often referred to as the “Lupus Life Insurance Policy” because of how it affects the immune system and can help decrease the risk of lupus flares. Side effects can include stomach upset, and, very rarely, vision and damage to the eye. Regular semi-yearly eye exams are recommended when taking this medication or it’s sister drug chloroquine (Aralen).
Corticosteroids. Sometimes stronger medications are needed to help with the inflammation associated with lupus. Prednisone and other types of corticosteroids like methylprednisolone (Medrol) are administered to control serious disease activity that involves the organs such as the kidneys and brain. Many lupus patients would agree that corticosteroids are the best (they save your life) and worst drugs because of the unfavorable side effects like weight gain, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, increased risk of infection, and diabetes. Often, people are prescribed these medications for short periods of time. However, the risk of side effects does increase with higher doses for longer periods of time.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Some NSAIDs, such as naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), can be purchased over the counter and do not require a prescription. Stronger NSAIDS (Meloxicam, Daypro, Clinoril) do require a doctor’s prescription. These medications are primarily used to treat swelling, pain, and even fevers that are caused by lupus. Common side effects of NSAIDs may include stomach pain, ulcers, heartburn, and sometimes an increased risk of kidney and heart problems.
Immunosuppressants. These medications suppress the immune system and are used in serious cases of lupus. Types of immunosuppressant medications include: azathioprine (Imuran, Azasan), mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept) and methotrexate (Trexall). Depending on how your symptoms present will allow your doctor to determine what medication is best for you. Potential side effects may include an increased risk of infection, liver damage, decreased fertility, and an increased risk of cancer.
Biologics. A biologic is a medication that is derived from a living organism or its products, and is used in the treatment and prevention of certain diseases. The most effective and studied biologic for lupus, belimumab (Benlysta) is administered intravenously, and has been proven to reduces lupus symptom and decrease steroid use. Side effects include nausea, diarrhea and infections.
Rituximab. (Rituxan) is another form of immunosuppressant medication that is classified as a monoclonal therapy, which means it is designed to target certain overactive antibodies. It is often used in combination with methotrexate to help treat rheumatoid arthritis, and in cases of lupus, when other medications are not effective. Side effects include allergic reaction to the intravenous infusion and infections, fever, chills and weakness.
Sometimes lupus can make you feel completely out of control of your own life. However, there are some things you can control, like being proactive with your own health.
Here are some suggestions:
Do not avoid your doctor. Don’t wait until you are in a flare to visit your doctor, make sure you are seeing your doctor regularly to address any concerns. Seeing your doctor regularly may help prevent flares by simply addressing routine health concerns like stress, diet, sleep and exercise.
Take your medication exactly as prescribed. Do not suddenly stop taking a medication because you are sick of the side effects, and you think you are better off without it. This can have serious repercussions. Even adjusting a medication dosage without speaking to your doctor can affect your overall health. Always call your doctor and ask to speak to an advice nurse if you have questions or concerns about a medication.
Get regular exercise. Exercise can help with range of motion in your joints, improve circulation, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, and help with stress. It can be as simple as exercising in a heated pool or taking your dog for a walk.
Be smart about your UV exposure. If you are photosensitive, ultraviolet light can trigger a flare. It is important to wear UV protective clothing, like a hat, long-sleeved shirt, and long pants, and lather a shot glass amount of SPF 50+ on your skin every 90 minutes, particularly of you are swimming or sweating.
Don't smoke. Smoking increases your risk of cardiovascular disease which is the number one cause of fatality among lupus patients. It can can worsen the effects of lupus on your heart and blood vessels and interact with many medications, particularly hydroxychloroquine.
Eat a healthy diet. Stay away from refined sugars and processed foods and try a diet high in vegetables, whole grains, and fruits. Consider having food sensitivity testing to see if you need to incorporate some dietary restrictions. Also, limited alcohol consumption. Certain alcohols can interfere with medications and increase lupus brain fog, not to mention put stress on other organs that may already be affected by lupus.
Talk to your doctor about the idea of incorporating complementary/alternative treatments into your care plan. Only your doctor can effectively weigh the pro’s and con’s of different alternative treatments, and recommend which treatment is best for you.
Complementary/alternative treatments for lupus include:
Vitamin D. A large percentage of lupus individuals suffer from vitamin D deficiency. This leads doctors to believe that there might very well be a connection between vitamin D levels and lupus disease activity. Most rheumatologist's suggest 1,000 IU’s of vitamin D should be taken daily in order to stay within a healthy range.
Cannabis. Cannabis has been used as an alternative medicine for thousands of years in cultures all around the world. Cannabis creams, balms, and salves can be rubbed on inflamed or achy muscles and joints. It has also been linked to helping with sleep and anxiety.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Supplements containing this hormone may help improve lupus pain and fatigue. Since DHEA is a hormone, it is important to talk to your doctor about any side effects that may be associated with DHEA before starting.
Fish oil. Fish oil supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids, and those are believed to be helpful for those living with lupus. Talk to your doctor about any possible side effects and about exploring other supplements and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Acupuncture. This age old therapy uses tiny needles inserted just under the skin. It may help ease the muscle pain associated with lupus, headaches, improve stress, and help with sleep.
I hope you have found this Lupus Treatments blog helpful to you! Always bring up any questions or concerns with your doctor about treatment options.
https://www.kaleidoscopefightinglupus.org/can-talk-cannabis/ by Kelli Roseta
**All resources provided by this blog are for informational purposes only, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. Kelli encourages you to always contact your medical provider with any specific questions or concerns regarding your illness. All intellectual property and content on this site and in this blog is owned by morethanlupus.com. This includes materials protected by copyright, trademark, or patent laws. Copyright, More Than Lupus, 2018.