How is lupus treated?

Lupus symptoms vary from one person to another. In many cases, the best treatment approach is with a health care team that will tailor treatment to your specific condition.

Today, physicians treat lupus using a wide variety of medicines, ranging in strength from mild to extremely strong. Prescribed medications will usually change during a person’s lifetime with lupus. However, it can take months—sometimes years—before your health care team finds just the right combination of medicines to keep your lupus symptoms under control.

There are many categories of drugs physicians use to treat lupus. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or “FDA” has approved only a few specifically for lupus, which include:

  • Corticosteroids, including prednisone, prednisolone, methylprednisolone, and hydrocortisone
  • Antimalarials, such as hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil®) and chloroquine
  • The monoclonal antibody belimumab (Benlysta®)
  • Aspirin

A rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in diseases of the joints and muscles, generally treats people with lupus. If lupus has caused damage to a particular organ, other specialists will be consulted. For instance,  a dermatologist for cutaneous lupus (skin disease), a cardiologist for heart disease, a nephrologist for kidney disease, a neurologist for brain and nervous system disease, or a gastroenterologist for gastrointestinal tract disease. A woman with lupus who is considering a pregnancy needs an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies.

Once you have been diagnosed with lupus, your doctor will develop a treatment plan based on your age, symptoms, general health, and lifestyle. The goals of any treatment plan are to:

  • Reduce inflammation caused by lupus
  • Suppress your overactive immune system
  • Prevent flares, and treat them when they occur
  • Control symptoms like joint pain and fatigue
  • Minimize damage to organs

People with lupus often require other drugs to treat conditions commonly seen with the disease. Examples include:

  • Diuretics for fluid retention
  • Antihypertensive drugs for high blood pressure
  • Anticonvulsants for seizure disorders
  • Antibiotics for infections
  • Bone-strengthening drugs for osteoporosis

Medically reviewed on July 25, 2013

This article was published by the Lupus Foundation of America Office.