Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Treatment

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Swollen, painful joints, fevers without a clear cause, and skin rashes can make you worried you may have cancer. But these symptoms could be a sign of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). SLE can cause swelling in your joints, skin, blood vessels, organs, and other parts of your body.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease (that means your immune system mistakenly reacts to and attacks your healthy body cells). There are other types of lupus. Of all the forms of lupus, SLE is the most common and most well-known.

We don't know what causes SLE. It could be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Treating Systemic Lupus Erythematosus at UVA Health

There isn't a cure for lupus right now. Treatment helps to manage the symptoms.

Symptoms can range from mild to very severe. For some people, only a part of the body is affected (such as your skin). Symptoms can stick around or they can get better and then come back (known as flare-ups).

Swollen joints, fevers, and skin rashes (especially, butterfly-shaped rash over your face) are common. Other symptoms may include:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Light sensitivity causing hives or hair loss
  • Stiff or weak muscles 
  • Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain
  • Depression, seizures, nerve pain, or numbness

SLE can affect your pregnancy. You may have flare-up of symptoms, kidney problems, or pre-eclampsia. There is also an increased risk of premature birth, stillbirth, miscarriage, or growth problems with the baby.

Treatment depends on your symptoms. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.

Medicines for Lupus

Some medicines used to treat SLE include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Antimalarial drugs
  • Corticosteroids
  • Drugs that suppress your immune system
  • B-cell therapy

Your doctor may recommend that you take a combination of medications.

Preventing Flare-ups

Some lifestyle changes can help you prevent flare-ups of SLE. Work with your doctor to create a flare-up prevention plan. That might look like:

  • Learning the signs a flare-up is coming so you can contact your doctor as soon as possible
  • Getting immediate treatment for any cuts or infections
  • Managing symptoms of other conditions caused by SLE
  • Avoiding the sun
  • Quitting tobacco
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Managing your stress
  • Getting enough rest
  • Exercising regularly

How Did I Get SLE?

You're more likely to get SLE if you're a women aged 20-45 years. It is also more common in Black and Native Americans, as well as Hispanic people.

Your chances of getting it increase if you have:

  • Someone in your family with SLE
  • Celiac disease