What happens if I leave my lupus untreated?

Because lupus is such a complex, variable (heterogeneous) disease, it is difficult to predict or generalize about what would happen if it were left untreated.

The severity of lupus should guide its management and treatment. People with lupus should have regular evaluations to make sure life-threatening organ involvement is not developing. For individuals with severe organ involvement, treatment is very important.

Because treatment decisions are guided by the degree and severity of disease manifestations, it is important for a person with lupus to be aware of their symptoms.  Up to 50% of lupus patients may have non-life threatening symptoms such as fatigue, joint pain, and rash. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (e.g. ibuprofen) and antimalarials (Plaquenil) are frequently used for symptomatic relief in this case.

However, due to the risk of disease flares with more severe organ involvement (kidney or lung/heart inflammation, for example), lupus patients should have regular evaluations to make sure life-threatening involvement is not developing. Many lupus doctors prescribe antimalarials even in the setting of mild disease because there is good evidence they may decrease the frequency and severity of flares and have low toxicity.

For patients with severe organ involvement—such as kidney inflammation—treatment is very important.

Before medications (like steroids and other immunosuppressives) were available to treat lupus, overall five-year survival rates were less than 50%. With expanded therapeutic options, 5 year survival rates are now over 95%.

Medically reviewed on July 25, 2013

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