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Several types of drugs can be used to achieve treatment goals, but treatment must be
individualized according to each persons particular symptoms. Finding the best
treatment regimen tends to be a trial-and-error process because individuals respond
differently to drugs. It is therefore quite common for physicians to recommend one
medication, monitor the relief it provides the patient and, if the desired result is not
achieved, to change the dosage or prescribe another medication. Because some treatments
may cause harmful side effects, it is important that individuals undergoing treatment for
lupus promptly report new symptoms or side effects to their health care providers.
Drug therapy usually is targeted at reducing inflammation, the cause of most lupus
symptoms. drugs used to treat the disease include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
(NSAIDs), corticosteroids, disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and cytotoxic
- NSAIDs: NSAIDs (either over-the-counter or prescription strength) are often
recommended to alleviate fever, muscle pain, and joint pain and swelling. Individuals with
a mild form of lupus may find an NSAID the only medication they need to relieve their
symptoms, whereas individuals with more active or severe disease may require additional
- Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids are the most common drugs used in lupus
treatment because they reduce inflammation at a rapid speed and have been associated with
a slowdown in the progression of the disease. The goal of corticosteroid therapy is to
induce and maintain lupus remission using the lowest possible dose to avoid side effects,
which can include fluid retention, muscle weakness, weight gain, increased blood sugar,
and bone growth suppression (osteoporosis). Major organ involvement, however, may require
higher doses of corticosteroids.
- DMARDs: DMARDs are frequently used in the treatment of lupus. They work by
interfering with the immune systems function and are thought to protect against the
damaging effects of ultraviolet light. DMARDs are effective in treating joint pain, skin
rashes, fatigue, and inflammation of the lungs associated with lupus. Continuous use of
DMARDs may prevent flares from recurring. In some cases, the use of DMARDs allows an
individual to take lower doses of corticosteroids, decreasing the risk of side effects
associated with high-dose corticosteroids.
- Cytotoxic drugs: Cytotoxic (cyto = cell; toxic = damage) drugs are usually
prescribed for severe cases of lupus, when more than one major organ (kidneys, liver,
brain, heart, lungs) is affected. These drugs work by targeting rapidly growing cells and
therefore are useful in suppressing the cells involved in the hyperactive immune response.
Most individuals who have lupus are treated with NSAIDs, corticosteroids, and DMARDs,
either alone or in combination.
To learn more about the drug classes used to treat lupus, click on the following links