Treating lupus: a guide
If you’ve been diagnosed with lupus, you’re probably wondering how it’s treated. One of the most important things to know about treating lupus is that it’s a team effort. You and your treatment team will work together to find the combination of medicines that’s right for you. Your treatment plan may depend on things like your age, your lifestyle, and how healthy you are.
While there’s no cure for lupus right now, having the right treatment plan can help:
- Control your symptoms — like joint pain, inflammation (swelling), and feeling tired
- Keep your immune system from attacking your body
- Protect your organs from damage
Treating lupus can be difficult. It can take months — or even years — to find the right treatment plan for you. The good news is there are medicines that can help you feel better.
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:
- Anti-inflammatories to help with inflammation and pain
- Antimalarials to protect skin from rashes and UV light
- Biologics to help your immune system work correctly
- Anticoagulants to help prevent blood clots
- Immunosuppressives to help keep your immune system from attacking your body
- Steroids to help with inflammation
Keep in mind that any medicine you take for lupus can have side effects, and some medicines could put you at risk for life-threatening infections. Talk with your doctors about what changes to watch for with the medicines you’re taking. And tell your treatment team right away if you have any side effects.
Some medicines used to treat lupus 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.
Explore medicines used to treat lupus.
What about alternative medicines?
If you’re thinking of trying alternative treatments — 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.
What do I ask the doctor?
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 ideas for questions to ask about your medicines:
- 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?
Work with your doctors to find a treatment plan that’s right for you
You may have to try many different medicines before you find a combination that works for you — and that can mean a lot of back and forth with your treatment team. Playing an active role in your health care can help you and your doctors find the right medicines for you faster.
Keep in mind that people with lupus usually see more than 1 doctor for treatment. That means it’s especially important to keep everyone on your treatment team updated — for example, you may need to tell a new doctor about a medicine that another doctor prescribed.
Here are some things you can do to play an active role in your treatment:
- Use a journal or this log to keep track of your medicines, the doses you’re taking, and any side effects you notice
- Let your treatment team know if you’re having side effects or if your symptoms change after starting a new medicine
- 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.