Treating lupus: a guide
If you’ve been diagnosed with lupus, treatment is probably your biggest concern. Treating lupus is a team effort — so you and your doctors will work together to find the treatment plan that’s right for you.
While there’s no cure for lupus right now, having the right treatment plan can help:
- Control your symptoms — like joint pain, swelling, and feeling tired
- Keep your immune system (the part of the body that fights off bacteria and viruses) from attacking your body
- Protect your organs from damage
How can I find the right treatments for me?
Treating lupus can be difficult. It can take months — or even years — to find the right combination of treatment options . Your treatment plan may depend on things like your age, your lifestyle, and any other health conditions you have.
A special doctor called a rheumatologist can help you find the right treatment plan — and refer you to other types of doctors to treat specific symptoms.
What medicines can treat lupus?
Because lupus can cause a lot of different symptoms, there are many different kinds of medicines that can treat it. A doctor will need to prescribe some of them – others are available over the counter. The most common medicines used to treat lupus include:
- Anticoagulants to help prevent blood clots
- Anti-inflammatories to help with
- Antimalarials to protect skin from rashes and UV light
- Biologics to help your immune system work correctly
- Immunosuppressives to help keep your immune system from attacking your body
- Steroids to help with inflammation
Any medicine you take for lupus can have serious side effects. Talk with your doctors about what changes to watch for, and tell your doctors right away if you have side effects.
Some lupus medicines aren’t safe to take when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. If you’re pregnant or planning to get pregnant, talk with your doctors about which treatments are safe for you and your baby.
What do I need to know about my treatments?
It’s normal to have a lot of questions when you and your doctors are working together to develop your treatment plan. Here are some questions you may want to ask when you’re starting a new lupus medicine:
- What is the name of this medicine?
- How will this medicine help me?
- Is it okay to take the generic version instead of the brand name?
- How much do I need to take and when?
- What are the possible side effects?
- When will this medicine start to work?
- Is it safe to take with my other medicines?
What about alternative medicines?
If you’re thinking of trying alternative medicines — like herbal medicines — always talk with your doctors first. Some alternative treatments might not be safe to take with certain medicines, and some could make your symptoms worse. Very few alternative medicines have been tested in people with lupus. Watch this video about complementary and alternative treatments for lupus.
What can I do to make my treatment plan work?
You can help your doctors find the right combination of treatment options by playing an active role in your health care. Try these tips:
- Use a journal to keep track of your medicines, the doses you’re taking, and any side effects that you notice
- Let your treatment team know if you’re having side effects or if your symptoms change after starting a new medicine
- Keep everyone on your treatment team updated — for example, you may need to tell a new doctor about a medicine that another doctor prescribed
- Write down questions about your treatment for the doctor ahead of time and take them to your appointments
- Ask a friend or family member to go with you to appointments for support — they can also help you keep track of your questions and information about your treatment
Remember, treating lupus is a team effort — so check in with your doctors often. In time, you and your doctors can find a treatment plan that’s right for you.
For more information about treating lupus, visit the National Resource Center on Lupus.
Lupus warrior Nick Cannon shares how treatment and lifestyle changes have helped him keep his symptoms in check. Hear what Nick has to say about living with lupus.
Our health educators are available to answer your questions and give you the help you need.