If you have lupus, you’re probably taken aback by the fact that it is incurable, but the good news is there is no shortage of treatment options, and with the right treatment you can live a healthy life. Today, doctors have more choices to help patients manage lupus effectively because the range and effectiveness of treatments have increased in recent decades.
What are your treatment options?
Because there is no cure for lupus; treatment focuses on managing symptoms, stopping flare-ups, lowering disease activity, preventing organ damage and improving quality of life.
Looking for the right treatment, but don’t know where to start? The Lupus Research Alliance breaks down what each treatment is:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which decrease inflammation, are often used to treat people with joint or chest pain, fever and swelling. Some NSAIDs, like ibuprofen and naproxen, are available over the counter, while others require a doctor’s prescription. They can be used alone or in combination with other types of drugs, but before you do this, it is wise to consult with your doctor to ensure it is safe.
While antimalarial drugs prevent and treat malaria, they’re also useful for lupus. A common antimalarial for lupus, hydroxychloroquine, may be used alone or in combination with other drugs to treat fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes and lung inflammation. Clinical studies have found that regular use of antimalarials may prevent flares from recurring.
Corticosteroids are a family of drugs related to cortisol, a natural anti-inflammatory hormone. Corticosteroids are great at apidly suppressing inflammation. However, they can be extremely potent drugs with side effects, so doctors will seek the lowest dose to achieve the desired benefit or use them in combination with less potent drugs.
Immunosuppressive therapy restrains the overactive immune system by blocking the production of immune cells. However, the risk for side effects increases with the length of treatment.
B-lymphocyte stimulator (BLyS-specific inhibitors)
B-lymphocyte stimulator (BlyS) protein inhibitor, a type of biologic medication, can help lower the number of abnormal B cells that create antibodies. Benlysta® (belimumab), one of two medications now approved specifically for lupus treatment, is a BLyS-specific inhibitor. Belimumab was approved in 2011 as a treatment for general systemic lupus erythematosus and in 2020 as a treatment for lupus nephritis.
Lupkynis™ (voclosporin) is a calcineurin inhibitor used as an immunosuppressant medication. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of lupus nephritis in January 2012.
Type I interferon receptor antibody
In August 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved anifrolumab-fnia (Saphnelo™), a first-in-class type I interferon receptor antagonist indicated for adults with moderate to severe systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The approval represents the first new treatment for generalized SLE in more than a decade and is the result of significant seminal research funded originally by the Lupus Research Alliance.
In addition to treatments for lupus itself, you may also take additional medications to treat lupus-related problems such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure or infection.
Why are new treatments needed?
Just two drugs specifically for lupus have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in more than 60 years, with over a decade in between. Because lupus affects each person differently and the symptoms vary widely, no one medication can work for everyone.
A variety of medications that target different mechanisms involved in causing the disease as well as options with fewer and less severe side effects are critically needed.
In order to get the proper treatment to effectively treat your lupus, it is important to work with members of your health care team. Ultimately, your treatment plan will depend on your age, symptoms, general health, and lifestyle. Keep in mind that it can take months – or even years – to find the right combination of medicines to control your symptoms. Your medication may also need to be adjusted as your symptoms and your needs change, so it is important to have regular exams and lab tests to track your lupus.