TREATMENT & MEDICATIONS
Due to its complex nature, a variety of treatments are often recommended for treating lupus. While there is no cure, the following treatments are suggested for managing symptoms:
Anti-inflammatory medications help to relieve many of the symptoms of lupus by reducing inflammation and pain. Anti-inflammatories are the most common drugs used to treat lupus, particularly symptoms such as fever, arthritis or pleurisy, which generally improve within several days of beginning treatment.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol®)
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Corticosteroids (also known as glucocorticoids, cortisone or steroids) are synthetic (man-made) prescription drugs designed to work like the body’s naturally occurring hormones produced by the adrenal glands, in particular cortisol. Cortisol helps regulate blood pressure and the immune system and it is the body’s most potent anti-inflammatory hormone.
Steroid medications work quickly to decrease the swelling, warmth, tenderness and pain that are associated with inflammation. They do this by lessening the immune system’s response. Prednisone is the most commonly prescribed steroid for lupus. Prednisolone and methylprednisolone are similar to prednisone.
Antimalarials are prescription drugs used in combination with steroids and other medications, in part to reduce the dose required of the other drugs. Antimalarials are most often prescribed for skin rashes, mouth ulcers and joint pain, but also can be effective in mild forms of lupus where inflammation and blood clotting are a concern. Antimalarials improve lupus by decreasing autoantibody production, protecting against the damaging effects of ultraviolet light from the sun and other sources and improving skin lesions.
Immunosuppressives (Immune Modulators)
Immunosuppressive medications are prescription drugs used to control inflammation and the overactive immune system, especially when steroids have been unable to bring lupus symptoms under control, or when a person cannot tolerate high doses of steroids. However, there can be serious side effects from these drugs. If you are being treated with immunosuppressives, you should be carefully monitored by your physician. Immunosuppressive drugs reduce your body’s ability to fight off infections and increase the chances that you could develop viral infections such as shingles (chicken pox or herpes zoster). It is extremely important that you pay attention to even the smallest cut or wound, and let your doctor know if any sign of infection begins, such as redness, swelling, tenderness or pain. These drugs may also increase your risk for developing certain types of cancer.
Because blood clots can be a life-threatening symptom of lupus, these drugs thin the blood to prevent it from clotting too easily. Anticoagulant medications include low-dose aspirin and prescription heparin and warfarin. In particular, if you are being treated with warfarin, you must be monitored by your doctor to be sure your blood does not become too thin. Anticoagulant therapy may be lifelong in some people with lupus. Very recent research shows that people’s genetic makeup may influence how they respond to warfarin; specifically, that people with variations in two genes may need lower warfarin doses due to differences in how the body breaks down (metabolizes) warfarin and regulates the ability of warfarin to prevent blood from clotting.
Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs)
Benlysta® was developed to disrupt activation of B lymphocytes by interfering with BLyS, a protein required for B cell activity. Benlysta is the first and only drug specifically developed for and approved to treat lupus.
Repository Corticotropin Injection (H.P. Acthar Gel)
Acthar® contains a naturally occurring, highly purified hormone called ACTH, which stands for adrenocorticotropic (a-DRE-no-cor-ti-co-TRO-pic) hormone. One way Acthar is thought to work is by helping your body produce its own natural steroid hormones, such as cortisol. These hormones may assist your immune system by helping your body defend itself against inflammation.
Learn more at the Lupus Foundation of America.