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Lupus Drugs: Treating Lupus with Medications

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 12/31/2009

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that results in fatigue, joint pain and stiffness, muscle aches, and other symptoms. Learn about the lupus drugs used to treat this condition to better understand this disorder.

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    Lupus Description

    The cause of lupus is unknown, but researchers believe that the immune system turns against the body, attacking healthy tissues. Damaged tissues result in organ dysfunction, which causes the many symptoms of lupus. Systemic lupus affects any part of the body, but commonly affects the kidneys. Discoid lupus affects only the skin, resulting in lesions on the face and other parts of the body. Several types of medications treat the symptoms of lupus so quality of life is improved for people with the disorder.

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    Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

    Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) treat the pain and inflammation caused by lupus. Some of these drugs do not require a prescription, while others require a prescription from a licensed physician. NSAIDs increase the risk for gastrointestinal bleeding, so people with ulcers and other gastrointestinal disorders should avoid these drugs. Aspirin, a common NSAID, thins the blood. Do not take this drug if you have a clotting disorder or if you take blood thinners like heparin. Use caution when taking NSAIDs if you have high blood pressure or other cardiovascular disorders.

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    Corticosteroids

    Corticosteroids mimic the affects of cortisol produced by the adrenal glands. They reduce the activity of the immune system, which prevents tissue damaged caused by antibodies. Oral forms include prednisone, hydrocortisone, and methylprednisone. Corticosteroids can also be delivered rectally, in the form of enemas, foams and suppositories, and intravenously in the form of methylprednisone or hydrocortisone. These drugs have many undesirable side effects, which makes them suitable only for short-term use. Side effects of corticosteroids include high blood pressure, increased infection risk, acne, weight gain, increased facial hair, mood swings, cataracts, high blood sugar, moon face, stretch marks, insomnia, and osteoporosis.

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    Antimalarials

    Antimalarial drugs are most often used to prevent or treat malaria, especially in Americans who are traveling to countries where the risk of contracting malaria is high. Although there is no solid link between malaria and lupus, these drugs treat many of the signs and symptoms of lupus. Antimalarial drugs can also prevent flare-ups of the disorder, resulting in fewer episodes of pain, inflammation, and fatigue. These drugs cause muscle weakness and vision problems, so use caution when using them for lupus management.