The majority of symptoms of lupus are due to inflammation and so the treatment is aimed at reducing that inflammation. This can be done through a number of different medications. There are four families of medications used in the treatment of lupus. They include:
- Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs - drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil & Motrin), naproxen, (Naprosyn & Aleve), sulindac (Clinoril), piroxicam (Feldene), diclofenac (Voltaren) to name a few.
- Corticosteroids - drugs such as prednisone, prednisolone, medrol, deltasone, cortisone and others.
- Anti-malarials - these have been found to be effective in treating the joint pain, skin rashes and ulcers that some people develop on the inside of their nose or mouth. Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine) is probably the most commonly prescribed anti-malarial drug in the United States. There is no known relationship between lupus and malaria.
- The fourth family of medications, immunosuppressants (or immunomodulating) /chemotherapy, is generally reserved for those individuals who have the most severe flares of lupus; or to enable the steroid dose to be reduced. A severe flare is one that affects an organ to the degree that the function is impaired. When this happens something has to be done to preserve the function of the organ and that's when immunosuppressive or chemotherapy medications are prescribed. These actually suppress the over activity of the immune system brought on by the lupus, and help limit the damage and preserve the function of the involved organ. (Lupus is NOT a form of cancer).
The majority of people who have lupus are treated with the first three families of medications, the nonsteroidals, corticosteroids and the anti-malarial drugs. These may be used either alone or in combination. Since individuals respond differently to medications, it may take time before you are able to determine, through trial & error, which medication at which dose provides relief of the symptoms of lupus. Frequently physicians will try one medication see how it works and if it doesn't work, they may have to change the dose or switch to another medication.